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The lobby to ban corporal punishment in home and schools

Published:Wednesday | June 20, 2012 | 12:00 AM

By Eulalee Thompson

The Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children in collaboration with the Global Movement for Children in Latin America and the Caribbean recently published their 2012 progress report. The report outlined the status of the movement to stop corporal punishment of children in the Caribbean.

The lobby, a registered United Kingdom-based charity, with support from United Nations and human rights groups, monitors the progress of global governments to prohibit corporal punishment of children in homes, schools, penal institutions and in alternative care settings.

The practice of corporal punishment is noted to be directly in conflict with "the equal and inalienable rights of children to respect for their human dignity and physical integrity". The lobby notes the colonial roots of corporal punishment stating that "as in much of Africa and Asia, corporal punishment of children was promoted and institutionalised across the Caribbean during the colonial period, in the context of military occupation and slavery, in the development of early school and penal systems, and in some Christian missionary teaching".

Haiti leads the way

Haiti, with its children accounting for more than half of the total Caribbean child population, appears to be the shining beacon in the region having prohibited corporal punishment in its schools, penal system and care settings. All the countries in the region, including Jamaica, however, still permit corporal punishment in the home.

The report states that "of the near eight million children in the Caribbean, 100 per cent live in states and territories where they are not legally protected from corporal punishment in the home".

Partial prohibition in Jamaica

Jamaica has made some progress in the area. There is some amount of prohibition of corporal punishment in schools but only for children up to age six; but up to April 2012 when the data was collected, prohibition in all schools is still under discussion here. The report notes that "the Government has stated its intention to abolish corporal punishment in schools and informed all public schools not to use it" based on information from the Ministry of Education School Bulletin 94/08.

In the penal system, corporal punishment as punishment for crime was ruled unconstitutional in 1998 but some legislations are yet to be repealed and as a disciplinary measure in penal institutions some progress has been made, but again some legislations are still to be repealed.

The report notes that corporal punishment is unlawful in alternative care settings in Jamaica. It states that "corporal punishment is prohibited in early childhood centres (schools for children under the age of six) under the Act to Provide for the Regulation and Management of Early Childhood Institutions and for other Connected Matters (2005), and in children's homes in article 17 of the Child Care and Protection (Children's Homes) Regulations (No. 22 of 2005). It is prohibited in other institutions and forms of childcare (places of safety) in article 62 of the Child Care and Protection Act".

Humiliating punishment

The report notes that as in other world regions, children throughout the Caribbean are subjected to physical and other humiliating punishment in their homes, schools and other settings where they live and are cared for. A major UNICEF report published in 2010 studied the experiences of children aged 2-14 in 2005-2006 through interviews with mothers and other primary caregivers.

This report indicated that a high percentages of children experienced physical punishment and/or psychological aggression in many countries, including across the Caribbean. In Jamaica, 89 per cent of children reported physical punishment and/or psychological aggression; 86 per cent in Suriname, 77 per cent in Trinidad and Tobago, 76 per cent in Guyana and 70 per cent in Belize.

Eulalee Thompson is health editor and a therapist in private practice; email: eulalee.thompson@gleanerjm.com.

What is corporal punishment?

"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."

- (Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 8, paragraph 11)