Editorial | When a government tackles corporal punishment
Prime Minister Andrew Holness notably anchored his proposal to outlaw corporal punishment of Jamaica's children in his administration's effort to achieve the so-called Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), which, essentially, are about policies to end poverty, achieving economic growth with equity in a peaceful and democratic society, while working to mitigate the dangers of climate change.
"With our commitment to the SDGs, I don't see how we can maintain this aspect of our culture and claim that we want to advance as a modern, civilised society," Mr Holness told Parliament this week.
This newspaper, of course, agrees with the prime minister's concern about the often gratuitous violence that is a feature of Jamaica's society and supports all reasonable, reasoned and constitutional initiatives to deal the problem. We, therefore, deeply anticipate the debate on the matter, hoping that any legislation/policy that flow from it address more than the impact on children. They must encompass broader issues of governance.
In any event, we are surprised that the relatively narrow sketch the PM offered this week - about punishing children in schools and at home - was against the backdrop of the SDGs. Jamaica, for more than a quarter-century, has had an international obligation to end of all forms of violence to children - no matter where it happens.
In 1989, the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child, of which Jamaica was a signatory. Jamaica ratified the convention in 1991, which presumably meant it had the formal consent of the Cabinet and Parliament, thereby making it quasi-national law.
Article 19 of the convention says: "State parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child."
To be fair to the Jamaican Government, it has taken some steps to deal with other of its Article 19 obligations, including the establishment of mechanisms for the "identification, reporting, referral, investigation, treatment, and follow-up of instances of child maltreatment described heretofore, and, as appropriate, for judicial involvement." There are institutions of the Child Development Agency (CDA), Office of the Children's Registry, and the Children's Advocate - which are now being merged. Legislation to make it illegal to punish children by beating, whether by teachers or parents, would be the institutional fulfilment of the obligations.
PREPARE FOR PUSHBACK
There will be some pushback of the proposed law.
Corporal punishment is deeply ingrained in Jamaica, as it remains in most other post-slavery Caribbean societies. Everyone is against the abuse/maltreatment of children, but sees nothing wrong with a child being flogged by parents, and within certain parameters, by teachers. Boys, in particular, are the worst, having received the brunt of the beatings.
Passing laws, too, isn't an end in itself, especially if, as is too often the case in Jamaica, they are not, or can't be, enforced. But more important than legislation is the need for a national mobilisation, led by the Government, against societal violence - whether physical, verbal, mental, or in other forms, and if it happens at home, in schools, at the workplace, or places of recreation.
To be at the helm of such a campaign demands a government that people trust; one that isn't perceived to be self-serving and corrupt. Mr Holness has to ensure that his administration meets this test.