Home » Human Rights » Ban On Corporal Punishment Opens New Era for Children

The recent ruling by Justice Muremba outlawing corporal punishment on children as was previously permitted by the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act has raised a storm among the Zimbabwean populace with those in the child rights sector mainly applauding the ruling while others in the general public and some sections of the education sector bemoaning the outright ban as unsuitable for the Zimbabwean context.

The ban in the case of S v Willard Chokuramba was in fact simply an interpretation of the “new” Constitution which in Section 53 outlaws the subjecting of any person (which includes children) to physical (corporal punishment) or psychological torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

It is also important to note here that the Constitution actually goes further to also outlaw such other non-corporal punishment alternatives inasfar as the method of discipline is torturous, cruel, degrading and inhuman.

The judgment also importantly highlights the fact that Section 53 of the Constitution absolutely outlaws corporal punishment in all environments which include at home, school and indeed in courts among others.

The main reason proffered in the general public outcry has been that the ban will promote unruly behaviour among children while those in authority will have nothing to use in disciplining children that are under their control.

A general implication is thus being made that corporal punishment is synonymous with child discipline and vice-versa such that the banning of the former means children can no longer be disciplined. This is outright wrong!

Child discipline is primarily about teaching and guiding children about what is right and wrong, helping children to learn what is expected of them and how to control their own behaviour.

This is glaringly different from corporal punishment which includes hitting the child with the hand or with an object, kicking, shaking or throwing the child, pinching, burning and forcing a child to take excessive physical exercise.

Away from the laws, our society should recognise that children’s mental and physical maturity limitations requires us as adults to nurture, protect and mentor them in a manner that guides them into becoming responsible citizens who abhor violence in any form, and respect others’ human rights rather than fear them.

This cannot be achieved by instilling a culture in children that interpersonal violence is an appropriate response to conflict or unwanted behaviour and that it is acceptable for those in authority to be violent towards the weak to force a particular line of behaviour or action. In children, such an aggressive line of thinking can easily be turned on to other children resulting in serious problems of bullying, and as they grow into adulthood, the proliferation of use of violence mainly in politics and domestic relationships.

This is in addition to risks of physical injury, poorer mental health, impaired relationships with parents, weaker internalisation of moral values and anti-social behaviour, all pointing to negative consequences of corporal punishment in children.

Children merely need discipline which refers to teaching them self-discipline, how to consider alternatives for behaving in a particular manner, motivation for acting differently, understanding the consequences of wrongful behaviour and developing an awareness of what they ought to be doing right.

It ideally should emphasise positive reinforcing of good behaviour and positivenegative reprimanding bad behaviour without using physical punishment. Such child discipline should also be done in addition to an ongoing process of trying to solve the root causes of children engaging in unwanted behaviour such as stressful or abusive family situations and poverty among others.

In any case all cultures including the Zimbabwean culture are dynamic and corporal punishment should rightfully be relegated to the dustbins of yesteryear’s culture.

Children just need proper positive discipline which is not found in corporal punishment. Nelson Mandela once said “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”

Corporal punishment indeed reveals a violent society and that is not a true or desirable reflection of the Zimbabwean society by any measure.

Blessing Mushohwe is a Child Rights and Policies Consultant at UNICEF

Source : The Herald