Going beyond the rod

Elliot Ziwira Senior Writer
The Education Amendment Bill, which was published in the Government Gazette in February 2019, and received its Second Reading in Parliament recently, seeks, among other principal objectives, to amend various provisions of the Education Act (Chapter 25:04), so that it complies with the Constitution, with the view to uphold the rights of the child.

Corporal punishment was lawful in Zimbabwean schools before the adoption of the Constitution in effect since 2013. A schoolteacher (defined as the head or deputy head of a school) was authorised to “to administer moderate corporal punishment for disciplinary purposes upon any minor male pupil or student” in terms of Article 241 (2) b of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act of 2014.

Among the objectives that the Bill seeks to achieve are the rights to State-funded education, further education; the rights of persons with disabilities to be provided with special facilities, the right to human dignity, and the right to freedom from physical or psychological torture or cruel or inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. These provisions, which the Bill aims to achieve through amendment, articulate the need for equal opportunities for children in an environment that is free of violence, torture and degrading acts, so that their full potential is realised.

However, some of the provisions in the Education Amendment Bill have ignited debate, which still rages on among the Legislature and the general citizenry. Contestations stand in clauses that seek to ban corporal punishment, and the exclusion of pregnant pupils from school.

Of particular interest to this instalment is the issue of corporal punishment, since it straddles cultural, religious and humanistic platforms. Not that the issue of the girl child is a non-issue, no! It is a matter for another day.

Because corporal punishment is an emotive issue, for all of us are/have been exposed to it, there is need to closely look at what constitutes the phenomenon, particularly in schools and what it seeks to achieve or falls short of achieving.

What is corporal punishment?

Though slightly varied, definitions of corporal punishment relate to both physical and psychological forms of punishment, with the physical import manifesting itself in bodily pain through beating, either by hand or objects, and the psychological form involving degradation.

According to Straus and Donnelly (2005), corporal punishment is “the use of physical force intended to cause pain, but not injury, for the purpose of correcting or controlling a child’s behaviour”.

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (General Comment No. 8), 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 — whip, stick, belt, shoe, wooden spoon, etc . . . In the view of the committee, corporal punishment is invariably degrading;” and to Save Our Children Sweden (2005) corporal punishment involves use of physical force or degrading treatment, which causes dissatisfaction or pain to some degree, with the aim to mould, correct, monitor and change the behaviour or manner of the child.

A closer look at the definitions above attest to the fact that a degree of pain is inflicted, however light, and that psychological and physical harm is derived, from any form of corporal punishment. The intention, however, may be well-meaning — to discipline the child for his/her own good, and that of society since behaviour; either good or bad culturally impacts on the social mobility of the community in which the child is raised.

What constitutes discipline?

Discipline, therefore, is key in moulding a child, and such discipline has to be enforced. It cannot be ruled out that discipline is a requirement for pupils to derive success in education. But how compliant behaviour can be inculcated is what splits proponents for and against corporal punishment. It is also imperative here to examine what constitutes discipline; and how schools determine policies to regulate behaviour, and how punishment can be meted out on deviants.

Rosen (1997) notes that discipline is a branch of knowledge-training that either develops self-control, character, efficiency and strict control to enforce obedience, or a treatment aimed at controlling and punishing as a set of rules. According to Eggleton (2001), discipline is a form of training that moulds, corrects or perfects mental faculties, or regulates moral codes, obedience to rules or authority, and punishment to correct deviant behaviours.

Discipline is central to the debate on corporal punishment, as interlocutors refer to it as being crucial to child development. Indeed, discipline is key, but should it only be enforced through corporal punishment? Is it not possible for the child to be disciplined without being exposed to physical or psychological harm? If the child is not disciplined at home, could it be possible for him/her to be disciplined through corporal punishment at school? Could it be possible to discipline the child at school through corporal punishment without giving due consideration to reasons for the indiscipline exhibited?

The case for corporal punishment

Theories have been posited for and against corporal punishment, with varying success parameters. Those who argue for raise cultural and religious tenets in the upbringing of the child. The child, they argue, is not raised in a vacuum, because he is a product of society, and therefore, should adhere to societal mores and values on morality and humane traits.

Parents, educationists, culturists, religious leaders, psychologists and human rights advocates are divided; locally and globally, over the use of corporate punishment in schools. The debate has mainly hinged on two approaches; the deterrent approach and the social learning approach (Chimbamu, 2016).

The deterrent approach pivots on the fact that punishing wrongdoers or criminals will prevent, deter or frighten other would be deviants. On the other hand, the Social Learning Theory (Bandura, 1977), asserts that children who experience corporal violence will learn through conditioning, and observation what violence means and are likely to become violent themselves.

Advocates of corporal punishment draw inspiration from religious and cultural considerations. The Judeo-Christian world condone corporal punishment and view it as the best way to discipline a child. The most quoted verses in support of corporal punishment are Proverbs 13v24, and Proverbs 23v13-14, which respectively say: “He that spares the rod hates his son, and he that loves him disciplines him promptly”, and, “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish them with the rod, they will not die. Punish them with the rod and save them from death.”

In this regard, therefore, corporal punishment is good for the child, because it is an expression of love, and not hatred in tandem with the aim to achieve set objectives, either in school or out of school.

No wonder why legislators in Zimbabwe are divided, because being products of a socio-cultural, and school system that advocated corporal punishment, they believe that success in life and school is related to use of force.

During the Second Reading of the Education Amendment Bill, Bikita West MP Honourable Elias Musakwa (ZANU-PF), highlighted that as products of corporal punishment, legislators should reconsider the ban on corporal punishment in schools, lest they be “judged harshly” by future generations. Shurugwi North MP Honourable Ronald Nyathi (ZANU-PF) concurred that teachers would be left with limited options to enforce discipline if corporal punishment is done away with. Portfolio Committee on Primary and Secondary Education Chairperson Honourable Priscilla Misihairambwi-Mushonga had earlier on intimated that the thorny issue of corporal punishment was raised during public consultations, although as a committee they upheld its ban.

According to Professor Itai Muhwati, Dean of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Zimbabwe, as Africans, we should avoid getting carried away by foreign and inherited terminologies, as they do not tally with our own cultural philosophies.

“Firstly, the terminology is wrong. Our tragedy as Africa is that we have inherited terminology that in no way defines who we are, what we do and how we manage our lives. Foreign concepts and terminology, such as corporal punishment, misname and distort our philosophy of life; and practice that drives that philosophy, and in this case child development models,” Prof Muhwati said.

He averred that in Africa “mwana anorangwa”, and there are “avenues ekuranga mwana”. Corporal punishment, he said, is not an African concept, and, therefore, should not even be debated. Rather, he maintained: “We should be talking about kuranga mwana aita musikanzwa.

“These two are different. As you can deduce from my line of reasoning, our experience of colonialism and enslavement creates utter confusion and chaos in our midst. I am an advocate of kuranga mwana, which is part of kuraira.”

Disciplining the child for deviant behaviour cannot be said to be punishment. Punishment against who, on whose terms?

Legal expert Dr Willard Tawonezvi Mugadza also added his voice to the raging debate on corporal punishment.

“It is my view that disciplining children by canning them at home or school should be maintained and it is not covered by the S v Willard (Willard case). Of course the arguments will be whether canning or ‘beating’ your child at home can amount to inhumane and degrading treatment,” he said.

Dr Mugadza argued that the Preamble of the Constitution of Zimbabwe states inter alia the need to: “Acknowledge the supremacy of Almighty God and imploring the guidance and support of Almighty God . . .” in governing the country. As such, the Judiciary and the Legislature should not be seen to be going against the tenets of the Bible, which says in Proverbs 13v24: “He who spares the rod hates his son, but, he who loves him, disciplines him promptly.”

Like most parents, educationists and other advocates, Dr Mugadza said corporal punishment should be upheld if children are to be brought up as accountable and honest citizens with the capacity to mould future generations. The Constitution, he maintained, should be mindful of the positive impact of the moderate canning of the child, because in the end it is the parent who loses out if an ill-disciplined child is incarcerated or become a social misfit in future.

The law, therefore, should protect the people, and another way of protecting society is to uphold corporal punishment at home and in schools.

The case against corporal punishment

From a constitutional point of view, juveniles are not to be physically canned, flogged or endure any degrading act.

As Dr Mugadza pointed out, this position was decided in the High Court, and confirmed by the Constitutional Court in the S v Willard (Willard case). Corporal punishment, the Constitutional Court concurred with the High Court, infringed Section 53 of the Constitution.

The position of the law on corporal punishment finds favour in some legislators, educationists, psychologists and human rights activists, who argue that there are other forms of discipline besides corporal punishment. Some have gone to the extent of putting the blame on teachers, arguing that canning pupils does not make them pass; and that teachers should devise teaching methods which improve pass rates, instead of blaming pupils.

Researchers aver that some approaches to corporal punishment have the effect of aggravating, instead of mitigating deviant behaviour. The deterrent approach, for example, is not meant for the deviant child, but other would-be offenders.

What is sometimes meant to discipline the child, may fail at the level of moderation, for in some cases emotions override intentions. Pupils have reportedly been seriously injured, disabled or lost lives due to corporal punishment gone wrong.

Children, who are exposed to violence at home and at school tend to exhibit traits of violence which will haunt them in their adult lives. They may also take out all the bottled anger, hate and violence on other children, teachers or adults, who they interact with on a daily basis. Since teachers are their role models, pupils are conditioned to accept violence as the norm.

Psychoanalysts say that if a child is exposed to love, he/she learns to love, and if he/she is exposed to violence and hate, he/she learns likewise.

There is no proof that corporal punishment can change behaviour, because the child, due to fear, may comply in a particular class, and once outside or in another class, the old habits will resurface. Once the child begins to associate school or particular teachers with violence, degradation or torture, the tendency is to become withdrawn due to fear, or avoid school altogether.

A conducive learning environment should prevail for pupils to perform to their greatest potential. They should feel safe and protected. They should be counselled for whatever poor behaviour they may exhibit, rewarded when they perform well, and be encouraged to always do better the next time.

The classroom functions as a community, where everyone plays a part, with the teacher being the head; in control and commands respect. Free interaction should be the hallmark, so that every member is given a chance to air his or her ideas. Regardless of their different backgrounds, learners are equal, as should be reflected through group work and emphasised throughout the learning process. All contributions should be respected to encourage participation and foster a sense of belonging.

Other forms of enforcing discipline should be sought, which are not degrading. If children know why they are being punished, and are made aware that the punishment is for their own good they will take it well, and regulate their behaviour accordingly. But if they feel that the punishment is gross and unjustified they do not take it well, therefore, intended objectives will remain unmet.

The verdict

While the jury is still out, it is worthwhile to reflect on the grey areas around the ban on corporal punishment.

It worth noting that even though 190 countries have signed and ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Somalia, South Sudan and the United States of America are still to sign.

It may be well that the countries have their reasons for not ratifying the convention, because each country has its own unique challenges, which can only be addressed from the country’s cultural and religious point of view.

In Zimbabwe teachers raise the issue of large classes as an impediment to the creation of a conducive learning environment where the rod is spared. A teacher-pupil ratio of 1:60, or 1:165 in some cases, against the recommended ratio of 1:30, does not favour other options of enforcement.

Researchers have also pointed out that large classes are difficult to monitor.

The issue of language comes in as well, especially in instances where the teacher may not be proficient in the local languages spoken in the area of deployment. Pupils and teachers may become frustrated. If everything is done in consideration of the pupil, and the teacher’s concerns are not addressed, challenges are likely to be abound.

The law should be seen to be serving teachers and pupils with the ultimate goal of meeting set objectives as culturally, religiously and traditionally appropriate. If society

is to be protected against deviant behaviour, and for the common good, then corporal punishment should go beyond sparing the rod.

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