A thin, flexible cane designed for corporal pu...
A thin, flexible cane designed for corporal punishment. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There aren’t many more emotive topics in Jamaica than the debate on corporal punishment. By law, corporal punishment is now banned in state institutions like children’s homes. Section 62 (d) of the Child Care and Protection Act provides that a child in a place of safety, children’s home or in the care of a fit person shall have the right to be free from corporal punishment.

The Roman Catholic Church in Jamaica several years ago banned corporal punishment in  its schools, and the Education Ministry has issued a directive that corporal punishment is prohibited in all schools, with legislation expected to back that up.

But although corporal punishment now (supposedly) remains the province only of parents or guardians in the home, the current position is bitterly opposed by many Jamaicans who believe that one of the worst things to have happened in the education system was the ban on corporal punishment in schools. Really?

One of the things I have great difficulty with is this romanticising of what used to happen in the schools in decades past. Let’s be clear. Some of those teachers were either sadists or mentally ill and needed to be removed from the classroom and either put into therapy or locked up.

God alone knows what issues they were bringing into the schools.

And no, this isn’t personal bitterness. Confession –  I was a nerd, I didn’t get beatings.

But sit down any group of Jamaicans and have them reminisce about the beatings they got and observed in school, and if you take off the cultural filter that tells us this is ok, you will, or should, be horrified.

A co-worker sent me this BBM when she heard me discussing the issue:

“My Grade 4 teacher nearly bruk mi thumb with a bamboo stick. Grade 4 and mi still remember she name!”

Others have stories of teachers who would wet the strap so as to inflict maximum pain.

One friend remembers a teacher who at one point during a particularly vicious beating, got up on a desk for better leverage to beat the boy since he was refusing to cry.

Another remembers a teacher hurling the black board eraser straight at her head (yes, she hit her), a common practice of teachers up to fairly recently. Hopefully by now, the threat of having their asses hauled into court, along with the Ministry’s directive, has put paid to that kind of behaviour.

And as for the fondly remembered Jamaican charge to the teacher at the beginning of the school year in respect of a “bad boy” to :

“Tek him teacher, I beg you, just spare the eye”

when stripped of the humour and the romanticism can be seen for what it was: parental complicity in the abuse of vulnerable children.

A scottish schoolboy receives corporal punishm...
A scottish schoolboy receives corporal punishment with the lochgelly tawse (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is nothing romantic or alright about such stories. Personally, I think some of the parents who were quick to rush up to school and threaten teachers who beat their children might well have been reacting to the state-sanctioned child abuse they suffered as a child.

Some readers will say I am recounting the extreme examples. Problem is, there was a lot of extremist behaviour taking place.

Some teachers say it is impossible to keep order without the belt. But where do you draw the line? Is it ok for teachers to walk around lashing out indiscriminately with a wide, heavy, leather strap? Is it alright if  canings are administered only by the principal? What about a slap on the palm of the hand with a ruler? What’s ok and what’s not? Or is the best bet to abandon the slippery slope and ban all corporal punishment in schools as has been done?

As I said, the issue is controversial. but never more so than when it comes to corporal punishment in the home.  Here’s a sampling of comments from the Facebook page of Beyond-theHeadlines (my radio programme on http://www.rjr94fm.com 5.30 – 7.30 pm) illustrating the range of views on this matter.

Collin Hutchinson: One cannot equate a child’s rights to that of an adult as you are shaping the child’s behaviour, while an adult is already shaped, therefore you cannot justify children’s rights on that basis. The problem is experts cannot separate child abuse from corporal punishment and also fail to give suitable alternatives to what has been an age old human behaviour.

Troy Kennedy:  Have these people noticed how some of these foreign kids are spoiled because parents can’t discipline them? I don’t see beating a child the old fashioned way being corporal punishment. I think they should define what they call corporal punishment of a child.

Eleanor Grace: Spanking your child is sometimes effective. Child abuse is an entirely different animal. The Government should NOT be involved in a parent disciplining their child.

Brian-Paul Welsh: Everything in moderation. A firm correction and slap is not the same as “batta-bruising” and humiliating a child. Jamaicans by and large are very physically violent with their children because that is their only frame of reference for discipline. It is an ugly cycle that we keep perpetuating.

Joseph T. Farquharson: So I know good adults who were never beaten while they were growing up and I know criminals who were subjected to corporal punishment while growing up. If parents have to resort to it that means that they have already lost control. We need to be examining the parents, not taking it out on the children.

Given the controversy, it was no surprise that there were mixed reactions to the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children when representatives visited Jamaica recently.

The organisation’s website states that it was launched in 2001 to speed the end of corporal punishment of children across the world.

Legality of corporal punishment in Europe Corp...
Legality of corporal punishment in Europe Corporal punishment prohibited in schools and the home Corporal punishment prohibited in schools only Corporal punishment not prohibited (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The problem for many Jamaicans is the lobby to end ALL forms of corporal punishment, and the feeling that overseas lobbyists are trying to impose their values on us. Many Jamaicans will tell you they don’t support excessive corporal punishment, but have no problem with moderate corporal punishment by parents to help discipline children.

One of the problems of course, is what level of corporal punishment is ok.

The Global Initiative, of course, says it is not ok at any level. It uses the definition from the Committee on the Rights of the Child, which monitors implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and which states that:

The Committee 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.”

I’ll highlight excerpts from the report in a subsequent blog post.

But tell me, what memories do you have of corporal punishment? And what are your views on the debate?