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Do Teachers Still Beat Your Child?

Thursday, April 13, 2006
Beatrix Greyvenstein - former Huricon legal practitioner
The Namibian

I AM writing this article in an attempt to inform the readers what the law says about corporal punishment in schools.

This is not an attempt to put more pressure on the already over-burdened teaching profession or even to give my personal opinion on this matter.

It is nothing more or nothing less than an information piece on this rather sensitive issue.

I know certain teachers who believe (and I grew up in a community where teachers believed) that it is good for a child to get a hiding every now and then.

Some also believe that it was the only way to teach a child the difference between right and wrong.

I cannot truthfully say that I suffered any permanent damage because of the corporal punishment that I received in school, but under our Constitution it became necessary for our Supreme Court to consider this matter again.

In the matter of Ex parte Attorney-General: in re Corporal Punishment by Organs of State 1991 NR 178 (SC) the highest court in Namibia was asked by the Attorney-General to give directions on all corporal punishment by State Organs, which included corporal punishment in schools.

Maybe it is necessary for us to first look into the question: What is corporal punishment? According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, it is "the infliction of physical pain upon a person's body as punishment for a crime or infraction.

Corporal punishment includes flogging, beating, branding, mutilation, blinding, and the use of the stock and pillory.

In a broad sense, the term also denotes the physical disciplining of children in the schools and at home."

In plain language, corporal punishment is any kind of punishment for an alleged offence/contravention/transgression/infringement or misdemeanour which causes physical pain to the body of a person.

In most cases in Namibian schools, corporal punishment consists of a beating with either the hand or a stick, but it is important to note that a pinch, for example, will also fall under the definition.

ANY kind of punishment which causes physical pain is therefore corporal punishment.

In the abovementioned case and in reply to the request by the Attorney General, the Supreme Court stated in 1991 already that: "The manner in which corporal punishment is administered upon a juvenile is intended to result in acute pain and suffering which invades his dignity and the self-respect of the recipient.

Such punishment is also potentially arbitrary and open to abuse in the hands of the person administering the punishment."

For these reasons, among others, the Supreme Court found that it should not be allowed for teachers to practise corporal punishment in our schools.

Therefore no more beatings were allowed.

This is the case no matter what the offence.

Corporal punishment has therefore been forbidden in schools since 1991, but we still hear of schoolchildren being beaten on a daily basis by their teachers.

This decision of the Supreme Court was again enforced by the judgment of Heathcote AJ in the case of Kapurunje Uirab v The Minister of Basic Education, Sports and Culture and Another, which judgment was delivered in August 2005.

In this groundbreaking civil case a young minor boy (with the assistance of his mother) issued summons against the Minister of Basic Education, Sports and Culture and a teacher after he was repeatedly and very seriously beaten by that teacher at school for allegedly stealing a cell phone from one of his fellow classmates.

Even though the Court found that the young boy "in all probability was involved in the disappearance of the cell phone" it nevertheless confirmed the previous finding of the Supreme Court that "corporal punishment is inhuman and degrading".

Damages in the amount of N$35 000 were awarded to the boy for the pain, suffering and discomfort he suffered as well as his psychological integrity, dignity and self-esteem that were injured as a result of this beating from his schoolteacher.

This case was criticised by many in the teaching profession and also by some parents.

One can, however, not criticise the Court for reaching this decision if one keeps in mind the reasons for the decision by the Supreme Court, namely that corporal punishment is: * intended to cause acute pain to the recipient, which invades the self-respect and dignity of the recipient; * potentially arbitrary; and * open to abuse by some teachers.

If a teacher wants to teach children respect for others and to always treat other persons with dignity, how can he/she justify corporal punishment which is intended to invade those very rights, namely the dignity and self-respect of the pupil? Secondly, how many times does a pupil get the opportunity to defend himself in the face of corporal punishment? It is usually an arbitrary decision taken by a teacher that a pupil should be beaten, therefore the audi alteram partem ("hear the other side") rule is not adhered to at all.

Thirdly, and from the available information it seems like this is the biggest problem with corporal punishment in schools, it is very often open to abuse.

Some teachers simply do not know when to stop or what would constitute a "reasonable" punishment for the alleged offence.

You then get children who are beaten to such an extent that they miss schooldays or even have to get medical treatment because of these beatings.

A teacher normally has a professional relationship with a child, has no feelings towards the pupil and would not feel the same towards the child as, for example, a parent.

It is therefore necessary to leave corporal punishment to the discretion of the parents of the pupils.

Schools and individual teachers need to devise a different system to discipline children in schools.

Parents who are still in favour of corporal punishment in schools need to ask themselves how they would react if one day their child is beaten by a teacher who does not know the limits of corporal punishment and that child then ends up in hospital or with scars on his body as a result of this.

I know there are many opinions on this matter and many readers may differ from the judgment of the Supreme Court of Namibia and still believe that it is acceptable to beat a child in school for certain offences.

We have, however, reached the point in Namibia where this point of view is not negotiable, as the Supreme Court clearly made it UNLAWFUL for teachers to punish a child corporally.

As a result of this judgment, teachers can open themselves up to civil and even criminal lawsuits if they prefer to ignore this Supreme Court ruling and to continue beating children in Namibian schools.

It is further important to note that this judgment is applicable in every single school in the whole of Namibia.

It does not matter whether you are a pupil or a teacher in a private school who gets no financial or other assistance from the Government.

Corporal punishment in all its forms is and will remain unlawful in schools!


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