Schools have a duty to protect
By Brenda Brewer Moore
On my 15th birthday, my school’s registrar publicly flogged me in front of my class. I had skipped school during lunch break to buy chips and snacks to share with my classmates in celebration of my birthday. When I got back, I was caught by the Registrar who told me I was wrong for skipping out during the school break without permission.
I was hauled to the front of the class and told to pull my skirt closer to my buttocks for better impact of the cane. I nurtured a faint hope that I would be spared. I had been recently crowned “queen” of the school, and after all, it WAS my birthday.
I took a backward glance at my classmates. The look on many of their faces was shock, incredulity and embarrassment. I turned back to face the wall and managed to catch the eye of the registrar who seemed to be relishing the moment.
The first 5 lashes didn’t hurt so much. Over the next ten, I started squirming and writhing in pain. It was humiliating enough to be beaten in front of the class. However, I imagined that it would be even worse to cry in front of your friends and classmates. But by the 17th stroke, my will broke and I could barely hold still or contain the tears that streaked down my cheeks. I was screaming for mercy. I was afforded none. I received all 25 lashes in front of my classmates.
I had somehow forgotten my school floggings, like this one, until a few weeks ago when a friend sent me a photo of her niece who had been flogged at her school—a renowned private school in Monrovia—because she left class early to change her sanitary pad. Her school’s Dean didn’t approve of her “loitering” the campus and give her 130 lashes. The photo I saw of her bruised buttocks with horrible marks brought back my own experiences as a teenager.
News of this student’s brutal flogging is thankfully sparking a conversation around the use of corporal punishment in schools. Policymakers are finally starting to ask whether it is necessary to use physical violence to get children to learn. The conversation has even led to officials looking at ways to ensure this becomes a national ban through policy in schools across the country.
53 countries have banned corporal punishment globally [i]. Liberia is among countries that has not legally banned it from either school or home. In fact, the Education Reform Act 2011 is silent on corporal punishment, saying instead, “Pupils conduct shall be regulated by the policy guidelines prescribed by the Ministry.” Our Penal Code 1976 Article 5(8) authorizes the use of force by parents, guardians and teachers against children for “prevention and punishment of misconduct”; and article 7(7) of the Children’s Law 2011 provides for “justifiable correction” of children.
“Spare the rod and spoil the child” is the biblical doctrine of old. Today, however, many still long for the old days, sparing the rod can spoil the child even more. Multiple studies have shown that once a child settles into the reality of being punished corporally, he or she loses fear of being punished and acts in total disregard. Rather than punishment being a deterrent, it can actually have the unintended consequence of enabling the “bad behavior”.
This is even without deeper consideration about the self-esteem of a child who is so brutally humiliated before their friends and classmates. Would they ever truly learn in that same space which holds such profound memories for them — memories of shame, hate, anger and humiliation?
As Africans, I know we take pride in recounting the measures we take to keep our children in check, and further relish explaining the various methods of punishments we mete out to our kids. Yet, we often wonder why our kids grow up with so much anger and aggression, and seem to accept other forms of violence so easily. This is not to suggest that our societies are more violent but I daresay, we can do better than to resort to corporal punishment.
Disciplining a child is, of course, an important part of being a parent. The Bible reminds all parents to “train up a child in the way he should grow and when he is old, he will not depart from it”. Our training will directly inform the lives our children will ultimately lead, and the things they will value about life. In this regard, the rod is not just the tool for punishment; it is, and must be, an instrument to direct a child’s path. Using the rod brutally risks directing our children toward a path of aggression, anger, hate and violence.
For a country like ours, that has a history of violence and with more than 60% of its population under the age of 25, it is important that we strive to create a better environment and narrative for our youth.
Research has shown that countries that have banned corporal punishment have less youth violence. Other studies have shown “a clear relationship between childhood spanking and a host of negative outcomes later on, ranging from aggression to mental health problems. In this case, however, the researchers caution that they see an association rather than a causal relationship between legal bans on corporal punishment and violence in youth.[ii]”
I do not subscribe to the notion that schools should have that authority to beat on any child placed in their care. There are several ways to effect a desired behavior in a child without resorting to flogging.
I am happy to see the Ministry taking a stern swift action on the school going as far as to demand the expulsion of the teacher from the school and a ban on working in the Liberian School system as well as imposing a hefty fine for the school itself.
The Ministry needs to take this a step further and include it as a national policy in the Teachers Code of Conduct and ensure that the National Parents Teachers Association (PTAs) are aware as well.
Teachers and caregivers need to be provided counseling training to know how to deal with youth who might be facing a myriad of emotional traumas from home (or school) which tends to manifest in many ways. Clear referral pathways need to be included in the policies so that all parties are aware of the process to report cases of abuse.
While the Ministry is doing its part, our lawmakers need to look keenly into enacting laws that protect our children and completely legally ban all forms of corporal punishment in all schools in Liberia.