Prohibit All Corporal Punishment of Children, in Homes, Schools and Care Settings

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The attention of the Daily Observer is drawn to a story carried in its June 28 edition headlined “I Would Flog That Teacher if I Were Not a Senator”.

According to the story written by legislative reporter Leroy Sonpon, River Cess County Senator Dallas Gueh, reacting to reports of extreme corporal punishment administered to a young female student by the Dean of Students of the Soltiamon Christian School System, declared that, were he not a senator, he would have flogged the perpetrator of the act. Senator Gueh made the statement on Thursday, June 27, 2019, when he served as guest facilitator to the National Youth Legislative Policy Dialogue.

The Daily Observer frowns on the Senator’s inciteful language but condemns in no uncertain terms the brutal physical assault on the young student and on her dignity. The impact of such a traumatic experience on her psyche could likely have long lasting effects which may serve to undermine her ability to function as an adult in later life.

This newspaper calls for stringent measures to be taken against the perpetrator of the act to serve as deterrence against future behavior. Additionally, the Daily Observer fully supports the punitive measures announced by the Ministry of Education. However, the measures do not go far enough to address concerns of the victimized student.

For example, reference is made to medical treatment for the wounds she sustained as a result of the severe flogging, but there is no mention about psychosocial assistance for the young student to help enable her to overcome the trauma induced by the sheer intensity of the violence meted out to her.

This incident, more than anything, has raised to the fore, questions about the administration of corporal punishment in Liberian schools and the impact such is having on learning and behavior. It has also raised to the fore the relevance of provisions of the 2011 Children’s law allowing corporal punishment in certain instances like in schools for instance.

According to a 2010 UNICEF report, the Children’s law enacted in 2011 provides limited protection from violent child rearing but does not make all corporal punishment illegal. It does however allow for corporal punishment in the home.

Article IV section 1.3 of the 2011 Children’s law states, “every parent shall have an equal duty with a co-parent to: … (g) respect the child’s dignity and refrain from administering domestic discipline that violates such dignity or adversely affects the psychosocial or physical well-being of any child living in the household”.

Further, according to UNICEF, the Children’s law allows for what it calls “justifiable” corporal punishment which clearly indicates that the law does not explicitly prohibit all corporal punishment. Article VII Section 7 of the 2011 Children’s law allowing for “justifiable punishment” states the following:

“(1) No person shall subject a child to torture or other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment. (2) Any correction or punishment of a child shall be justifiable for the child concerned. (3) No correction of a child is justifiable for any child if it is unreasonable in kind or in degree relative to the age, physical and mental condition of the child and no correction is justifiable if the child by reason of tender age or otherwise is incapable of understanding the purpose and fairness of the correction. (4) The Ministry of Gender and Development shall progressively facilitate parental guidance programs aimed at developing the capacity of parents to discipline and guide their children without use of any form of violence.”

But it can be recalled that in June 2006, the Committee on the Rights of the Child adopted General Comment No. 8 on “The right of the child to protection from corporal punishment and other cruel or degrading forms of punishment”, which emphasizes the immediate obligation on states parties to prohibit all corporal punishment of children, including within the home.

In October 2006, the report of the UN Secretary General’s Study on Violence against Children submitted to the General Assembly recommended universal prohibition of all corporal punishment as a matter of priority.

“The Committee on the Rights of the Child defines ‘corporal’ or ‘physical’ punishment as any punishment in which physical force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort, however light. Most involves hitting (‘smacking’, ‘slapping’, ‘spanking’) children, with the hand or with an implement – a whip, stick, belt, shoe, wooden spoon, etc. But it can also involve, for example, kicking, shaking or throwing children, scratching, pinching, biting, pulling hair or boxing ears, forcing children to stay in uncomfortable positions, burning, scalding or forced ingestion (for example, washing children’s mouths out with soap or forcing them to swallow hot spices). In the view of the Committee, corporal punishment is invariably degrading.

In addition, there are other non-physical forms of punishment that are also cruel and degrading and thus incompatible with the Convention.

“These include, for example, punishment which belittles, humiliates, denigrates, scapegoats, threatens, scares or ridicules the child … eliminating violent and humiliating punishment of children, through law reform and other necessary measures, is an immediate and unqualified obligation of States parties.” (Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 8, 2006)

Following examination of the state party’s initial report, the Committee on the Rights of the Child recommended that the Government of Liberia explicitly prohibit corporal punishment in all settings, including in the family (CRC/C/15/Add.236, para. 43). The Committee made the recommendation following scrutiny of Liberia’s initial report.

Against this back drop and in view of this recent incident the Daily Observer enjoins UNICEF in calling for repeal of the provision for “justifiable” correction or punishment (in the Children’s Law); explicit prohibition of corporal punishment in the home, schools and care settings.

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