The government banned corporal punishment in schools in 2001 and enacted the Children's Act that entails protecting children from abuse and violence in all its forms.
However, corporal punishment has surprisingly come back with some stakeholders poking holes in implementation of the laws that protect children.
They argue that there are better ways of changing learners’ behaviours.
Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development Chief Executive Officer Charles Ong’ondo told The Standard that corporal punishment has been proven to be an ineffective and dangerous method of controlling and maintaining behaviour and discipline.
Prof Ong’ondo said behavioral change in learners can be achieved using different methods rather than caning and other forms of corporal punishment.
"Teachers should understand the pros and cons and know what to consider before using such punishments because some mistakes do not need a punishment technique but guidance and counseling," Ong’ondo said.
Ong’ondo further urges school heads to engage learners in co-curriculum activities that will keep learners' minds busy.
"It is our desire that children’s learning experience should always be positive, and never traumatic. The heads of institutions should allow learners to take part in co-curriculum activities where they will have an opportunity to ventilate," he said.
In 2014, a spate of indiscipline was witnessed in schools with learners razing down properties worth millions of shillings.
This brought about a proposal to amend the Children Act and UN Convention on the Rights of the Child laws and was captured in the 2016 special education investigations report on school fires.
If amended, it would provide for children’s rights but with corresponding responsibilities.
Similar recommendations were made by the National Assembly Education Committee in a 2019 report in which MPs called for a review of the Basic Education Act together with regulations to address indiscipline among learners.
He said schools are expected to provide a safe and nurturing environment for children to fully benefit from educational opportunities.
"Corporal punishment also has long-term implications in early childhood development which measure lower on academic achievement and social competence," he said.
However, former Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha and his Interior counterpart Fred Matiang’i called for the return of corporal punishment in schools to arrest the runaway indiscipline among learners.
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Prof Magoha urged parents to discipline their children and not allow them excessive freedom.
In Kenya, Article 25 (3) (b) (c) of the Children Act 2022 confirms the constitutional prohibition of all forms of corporal punishment as follows:
“Any person who subjects a child to torture or other cruel and inhuman or degrading treatment, including corporal punishment, commits an offence and shall, on conviction, be liable to the offence under the Prevention of Torture Act.”
Corporal punishment is unlawful in schools under the Constitution 2010 and the Basic Education Act 2013. Article 4
The Teachers Service Commission Act (No. 20 of 2012), sets out teachers’ duty to protect children in article 9(1):
“A teacher shall… take all reasonable steps to ensure the child is protected from abuse, neglect, harmful cultural practices, all forms of violence, discrimination, inhuman treatment, corporal punishment and exposure to hazardous or exploitative labour.
Also, an international treaty adopted in 1989 protects children from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation.
Kenya Secondary Schools Heads Association national chairman Kahi Indimuli told The Standard that although moral decay is evident in today's society, ensuring discipline needs collective responsibility.
“To change the tide, we must go back to the homes where we will have the right orientation about parenting. This must be gotten rightly before it can translate to the larger society.”
Indimuli said inflicting learners hardens them over time and therefore has no positive behavioural change.
"Discipline in our learners should begin at home with parents. It’s their responsibility to ensure children's discipline is beyond reproach," Indimuli said.
Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers Secretary General Akello Misori said knowledge should be accompanied with character and discipline, saying the role of discipline should not be left to teachers alone.
“Parents should play their role and not leave it in the hands of teachers. Keep children away from spending more time on social media because some of the things they learn there cannot be unlearned by beating,” Misori said.
Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) Secretary General Collins Oyuu called for enforcement of the abolished corporal punishment which has found its way back in schools.
Oyuu said apart from harming the learners, this leaves the safety of teachers at risk.
“Parents have a greater responsibility in the upbringing of their children. We can attribute the runaway indiscipline in learners to parents abdicating their roles on parenting,” Oyuu said.
“We want parents to regain their parenting skills. The work of teachers is to impart knowledge and values to learners.’’
As teachers grapple with the laws, parents are arguing that expanding existing correctional facilities for children will go a long way in improving discipline.
National Parents Association national chairman Silas Obuhatsa said instead of imposing corporal punishment, teachers should expel the students.
Obuhatsa says more correction facilities should be established where such learners are sent in order to mold their character.
"Students found to be involved in torching schools in the country should be sent to rehabilitation centers rather than punishing them and retaining them in school where they will slide into serious criminals which will pass to others," Obuhatsa stated.