Corporal Punishment in Jamaica Part 1

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 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?

20 thoughts on “Corporal Punishment in Jamaica Part 1

  1. Owen Blakka Ellis

    This is such a difficult topic. I was viciously and mercilessly beaten as a child. Mostly at home. That wasn’t corporal punishment. It was bigger rank, more like sergeant, inspector or superintendent! And I was never a bad child. I know now that my aunt who raised me clearly had issues. I’m over 50, she’s long gone, and am still angry. I initially tried to apply corporal punishment as a parent (we live what we learn) but each time I did, it made feel worse than the children. In a moment of anger and frustration at his attitude, I recently poked my 14 year old in the forehead while I scolded him. He was livid. He called me out for my ‘abusive behaviour’… and I was thoroughly ashamed. He’s been living in Canada for the past 8 years so he knows his rights and my limits. The problem for me though, is that societies like the one in which my son is so well assimilated, emphasizes ‘rights’ much more than it does ‘responsibilities’

    1. Phyllis Reid-Jarvis

      Without a doubt, any form of physical contact inflicted to cause pain
      is an abuse and should be banned- this includes beating children.
      Parents may indeed rationalize that they were beaten and that they turned out alright- is that really true? This is called fooling oneself.

      Teachers and parents have absolutely no need to inflict physical punishment on children- instead, both parents and teachers need to be made aware of the difference between discipline and punishment. One sees the adult who is in charge thinking about the outcome or the end in mind before reacting to what the child may or may not have done- the actions taken are done in a way to leave the child’s self-esteem, sense of worth and value intact while correcting the issue at hand.

      Correction of errant behaviour could take the form of lost privileges, doing work to compensate for what should have been done etc. The outcome of this approach is to cultivate a sense of ownership of one’s actions in the child via showing the strong relationship between logical and natural consequences of actions- positive or negative. This approach develops discipline which everyone needs to take them through life as responsible, productive and principled individuals.

      The other approach which is how the criminal ‘justice’ system is structured is designed to punish not to rehabilitate, designed to demonstrate authority and power over those deemed inferior- this kind of approach creates the very opposite of the previous- The use of physical punishment is often a reflection of the adult’s own anger, lack of awareness that there is a better way or pure stuckness in a way that has always been. It is time to get their head out of the sand!
      Parents and teachers must ask themselves, what kind of outcome do I desire from this interaction with my child/student? how best should I go about it to ensure I am raising a disciplined person who contributes positively to their
      society as they grow into adulthood?

      Yours in health and success,
      Phyllis Reid-Jarvis, MPH,Dietitian/Life Coach

  2. Carmen Clarke

    Its a thorny and complex issue. While I do not believe that children should be “batta bruised” by anyone … I do think that a quick swat on the behind surely won’t do permanent harm to a child’s psyche. I do NOT think a teacher should spank my child though. Call the parent. A lot of teachers come to school with their own personal issues and anger and will take out these frustrations on the children in their care.

    My fear is that we (in Jamaica) have become so caught up in all things foreign that we spear little time to consider what works for us. Some of the behaviours that I have observed with children “cheeking” their parents (read mothers) and getting away with it — is just unacceptable .. but that’s how it works in America, right? Children have the “right” to back-answer their parents and parents should suck it up. So it seem anyway. I think parents should parent with love, care, concern, self-control and discipline. That is what setting a good example means. Each child requires different techniques … beating them to death (or near death) to teach them about life is just plain ridiculous and abusive. Slapping down a child because “yuh jus like you fadda” makes no sense, slap youself, you chose this no good SOB!! But again a swift swat on the behind is necessary sometimes :) :) :)

  3. Vivienne Kemble-Siva

    I still remember grade six at primary school when the whole class was caned because one boy did not do his home work He was not punished . This went on for about a week until the boys beat up the one who refused to do his work. That was apparently the teacher’s strategy. It was a traumatic experience .

    Teachers should be banned for hitting a child point blank

    For Parents where do you draw the line. Should parents be criminalised and what happens when your 14 year old is taller than you are. Raising a child is difficult and it’s easy to become frustrated, angry and lose control and a gentle slap can quickly become something worse. It is a dilemma .

  4. Omar Oliphant


    The feelings and thoughts toward corporal punishment have a fundamental psychological foundation which manifests itself in several and varied ways: biblical perspectives, generational practices, social pressures, incoherent parental practices as well as ignorance of knowing how to relate to a child.

    I have know individuals who are bruised and scared for life (emotionally) because of the physical extremes of corporal punishment. What must be clear is : what do we as a people at each level of society desire?

    I see the role of the state and the family separately on the issue, which i will explain. The state’s role in a child’s life is different and unique from a parent’s and each has to be viewed within its own sphere.

    As for the State’s role, it is understandable for any state to restrict corporal punishment but within the family, i think education to varied styles and modes of discipline can greatly advance the manner, the timing and the reason for corporal punishment. It must not be done in anger, in an abusive manner ( swelling of skin, on the head, with harsh pointed objects, etc).

    As for me though, the evil (and extreme) position taken by those who have done it wrong is not sound grounds to no judiciously employ it, scarecely, infrequently and in love.

    1. A.M. Ansari

      The state and the family are separate only up to a point. The state must step in when severe abuse is taking place and children’s lives are in danger.

  5. Wayne

    I don’t believe in hitting a child. That’s far to easy a task. Try parenting first before settling on smacking a child into submission. Lets make sure we are on the right side this time. Using the argument that foreigners are trying to tell us what to do totally trivialises the issue and is an old and cold argument that must be discouraged at all costs.

    1. A.M. Ansari

      Foreigners dictate to Jamaicans up to the very clothes they wear. Was it a foreigner who started the argument?

  6. Earl

    I want to address the beating-in-school issue specifically; leaving the home situation for another occasion, perhaps.

    Several generations of students in my home community (yes; the same one many of you will be visiting to enjoy the literary feast of Calabash next week!) were left scarred for life and under-educated, partly because of the vicious beatings they endured during their years at elementary/primary school.

    If you showed early potential (as I fortunately did) you were nurtured and for the most part escaped the beatings. You were destined to be one of the few star pupils who would be paraded as the finest products of the school. But pity the poor boys and girls who did not start out as well. Instead of intellectual stimulation they were mostly treated to the stimulus administered to all parts of their bodies (not just the rear end or the hands) by heavy belts, rulers, sticks, canes or any other convenient implement. Some of these instruments of cruelty were even given names by some teachers, so strong was the bond they attached to their favourite ‘weapon’.

    I am still pained by the memory of a particular girl being made to stand on the desk so that her tormentor could be better positioned to beat her around the legs. The strop he used was about four ft long and with each blow it would wrap around her exposed leg and bruise her further as it retracted. But it did not stop there! With each blow he issued a string of invectives, calling her names such as “white pork”. Yes; she was of very light complexion as most the people in that section of St. Elizabeth (mainly of Scottish descent) were.

    Those beating scenes at this primary school in the 1970s could have easily rivaled the 19th century savagery of Oliver Twist’s doleful existence at the alms house.

    I had my own isolated encounter with the belt (with metal buckle attached) one day when a National Youth Service Teacher’s Assistant (a mere teenager) hit me in the face, coming very close to seriously injuring my left eye; but that was nothing compared to what the majority of students who were struggling with their schoolwork endured.

    It didn’t take long for most of the boys to give up on school. They saw the sea as a perfectly reasonable alternative and for the most part made a good living from it. But that ought to have been a choice arrived at for other reasons, not because they had been traumatized into hating school! As for the girls, they had no such option; they simply stayed at home and became the wives of the men and the mothers of their children. And the cycle continued.

    Today, there’s largely a more enlightened approach at that school; the teachers are far more patient and understanding and a reading specialist has been employed to assist the slow learners. As a consequence many more students are going on to high school and university. And it’s being done without the hideous beatings.

    Let me be clear. There were some caring teachers at the school in my time and I still remember them fondly but there was a culture of punishment at the institution that rendered their own more gentle approach inadequate.

    Sorry, Dionne. I didn’t mean for my response to compete with the length of your fine article but I just had to get that off my chest!

    1. djmillerja Post author

      Thank you for that. It was painful just to read, I cannot imagine how children must have dreaded going to school! How could they learn, especially for those who had any kind of learning difficulty. Talk about a teacher with issues! It is against the background of stories like this that I have very little patience with the folks who reminisce fondly about the good old days when you could beat schoolchildren.

  7. Pingback: Corporal Punishment in Jamaica Part 2 – What Happens at Home | News and Views by Dionne Jackson Miller

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  10. chubbu

    While I don’t believe in corporal punishment, Jamaica is known to be a place that is into christianity. Even though true the years we have fallen from what we know, we still believe in the Bible and church, and I quote “do not spare the rod and spoil the child”. Even in cartoon it showed a child who was unruly and everything was done except spanking. But after being spank he showed respect and manners. There are teachers and parents who take it too far but

    whole, Jamaica

    1. A.M. Ansari

      There was probably no good method of instilling discipline and respect. After the spanking, the respect is out of fear, not out of real respect. Such a child would smile in the face of the teacher and call him a SOB behind his back. That respect is fake.

  11. chubbu

    What makes it okay in the USA for the government to tell the parents they can’t discipline there child and teach the child if they love you they won’t hurt you but on the other hand is quick to take your child away and even arrest them and charge them as adult for something the parent if left to raise and grow their child, may have prevent such thing from happening. I love my country and believe if we ever implement the laws of the us in Jamaica, our country and children will be worst than it is.

    1. A.M. Ansari

      The U.S. had deep rooted family issues and the laws sometimes make it worse. That does not justify that we should continue to do things as we always did in Jamaica.

  12. Aretha

    As a recent victim of CP in schools I googled the topic and found your article . I am the parent a 9 year old girl that up to last week attended a prominent primary school in Portmore, St. Catherine. She is a grade four student that has thus far maintained an A average throughout her years of schooling. School reopened September 4th and by September 24th she had been slapped on four different occasions by her MALE teacher. She reported kids getting beaten daily and was always in fear of it getting to her as the reasons appear to be quite random. I encouraged her to be on her P’s and Q’s to avoid the well wrapped rulers he boasts. by the second week of school her fears were realized she got slapped for lifting her head at rest time when all heads must be down on the desk. I quarrelled with her when she reported the matter to me reminding her that I had advised her to comply with all instructions to avoid the slapping. On Sept 24th she reported being the victim of the ruler again! so I was about to go off on her again for non compliance when she said that it was because she got 38/40 in language arts test. So my rage changed direction, how could I instruct her to avoid that! but that was not it, later the same day they were doing Religious Education class quiz and the lot of them were delinquent with coming up with the correct answers. Well, for that the whole class got rulered, making that a double whammy for the day for her. I told her to hold tight while I sort it out as I don’t support beating for not getting everything correct. By the following Monday she was slapped again for not remembering the three things that MUST be on a map……she only remembered one, the key….and yup, for that she was slapped! The Wednesday at PTA meeting the principal reiterated that flogging is a part their school package and whichever parent have an issue can remove their child. The child and I was summoned by the principal and other school reps on Thursday and the position was reiterated. The teacher ultimately announced “thank god, I am not a vindictive person, I will teach her and not slap her. But I will not be going the extra mile for her. We need to notify all the grade teachers that this child is not to be slapped if ever they need to take my class in my absence.” His tone was bitter and vicious. When I got her from school in the afternoon she said that he returned to the class after the meeting where she was verbally abused. He spoke to the class of parents that don’t want their kids to be slapped should keep their spoilt children at home, staring her down the whole time. I had to give in to the abusive pressure and pull her on Friday. I had to buy new uniforms, books and other provisions. So today, Monday she sits without fear of being slapped in a preparatory school that came to out rescue!
    It cannot be the way! children should be forced to learn under those conditions!

    1. djmillerja Post author

      Thanks a lot for this – this puzzles me however as this principal would now be violating a clear directive from the Ministry of Education. While I understand pulling your child from the supervision of this principal, a complaint to the Ministry of Education should be made.


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