The Standard Group Plc is a multi-media organization with investments in media platforms spanning newspaper print operations, television, radio broadcasting, digital and online services. The Standard Group is recognized as a leading multi-media house in Kenya with a key influence in matters of national and international interest.
  • Standard Group Plc HQ Office,
  • The Standard Group Center,Mombasa Road.
  • P.O Box 30080-00100,Nairobi, Kenya.
  • Telephone number: 0203222111, 0719012111
  • Email: [email protected]

Caning children simply means adults have failed


Secondary schools in Kenya have suffered arson attacks since they reopened last year after nine months closure due to Covid-19. In an effort to recapture the lost time, term dates  are now irregular, sometimes with mere one-week holiday breaks.

Nonetheless, Covid-related stress is a global phenomenon, with the US recording 50% increase in teen suicide since the pandemic.

Ministry of Education top brass and parents in response to the arson incidences have been trying to find ways to contain this destructive behaviour. Yet, even the threats by the DCI that those found engaging in arson will never receive a certificate of good conduct needed at the point of employment have not worked. Some government officials and parents are now advocating for a return of corporal punishment.

Those in favour believe that kids should be disciplined in anger by hitting them in a fit of rage as soon as they exhibit undesirable behaviour. Some adults cannot consider any other effective punishment and strongly believe that caning  is the easiest and the quickest way to induce good behaviour in a child. I have read many posts on social media where the proponents of the cane argue that they were beaten in their childhood, and it would work for their children too and that children need to understand the harsh realities of life despite no scientific basis for this argument. Occasionally,  the proponents are also frustrated with their personal or professional lives and flush off the anger on children. In the recent past, cases of  killing of children by parents have increased.

There are several problematic issues with the proposal to reintroduce the cane, the first one being that the bill of rights supports rights of children and freedom from physical harm, including caning. This can only be overturned through a referendum, a process unlikely to happen. But, more importantly, with increasing awareness of mental health and the role of emotions in shaping behaviour, cane punishment is no longer considered acceptable for children.

Child psychologists and health professionals strongly argue against caning as a way of containing undesirable behaviour in children. While one of the key challenges of parenting is disciplining a child in the right way, caning evidently has greater adverse effects emotionally, physically and psychologically.

Some adverse repercussions associated with  caning have already been experienced where teachers have hit students and caused serious injuries and even death. Perhaps, more concealed is the effect on their emotional and social development and interactions in the long run. Parents and generally adults are naturally expected to shape the younger generation and in the 21st century, problem solving and emotional intelligence are the most critical skills for one cope with  the vicissitudes of life. Building these skills requires trust and mutual respect between the child and the adult.

Caning erodes trust and makes children fearful of parents/teachers and start hiding things in the fear of getting beaten. Some parents will even quote the Bible’s famous phrase “spoil the rod spoil the child”. Yet, a contextual understanding of the use of rods and staffs in ancient Israel had  nothing to do with inflicting physical pain. The rod and staff were  a shepherd’s tools to grab a sheep that’s going astray (a hooked staff) or for correction by a swift tap on the side or noggin with the rod.

The debate on whether punishment is required or is effective in reinforcing desirable behaviour will never end. However, the best way is for yourself to model the expected behaviour and control a child’s undesirable actions but with effective disciplinary actions. Experts have suggested many other ways to discipline a child, including rewarding good behaviour, talking to the child calmly, measuring the punishment commensurate with the offence and never punishing in anger and, thereafter, explaining with examples or making them aware of the bad side of their action. What matters is to know the right degree of strictness or punishment to create a positive effect on the child. It is important to teach children about cause and effect, that choices have consequences. This helps children to take responsibility for their actions and own the consequences. Positive reinforcement works well reinforce desirable behaviour.

While it is important to point out a child’s mistake, adults must be careful to also give praise and acknowledge their good. Caning is an engagement in imbalance of power and adults should understand the right trade off. It is important to ensure that in shaping a child’s or student’s behaviour, the adult remains kind but firm, calm and not agitated because aggression in correcting misbehaviour sends the message that  the adult is performing a retributive act which humiliates, intimidates and inflicts pain on the minor.

There may be many reasons why children are misbehaving, ranging from truancy to mental health issues. Surely, caning can never be a blanket solution for emotional stress and truancy at the same time. The underlying reason for undesirable behaviour must be understood before corrective action is taken. I must also mention that guidance and counselling is not a replacement for the cane as is often said by teachers and ministry officials.  Ethically, counselling should be voluntary, private and safe  with openness that provides for accountability and change of mindset. And it should be given by trained teachers or professional counsellors only.

No matter the reason,  corporal punishment is not the right way to inculcate discipline in children and certainly not effective in reducing it. Ministry officials, especially post-Covid,  should work with  child psychologists, psychiatrists and mental health professionals to put in place effective measures of inculcating discipline in schools.

The yoyoing between the cane and not caning communicates indecision on the part of adults and it is never good especially for teenagers. Resources need to be provided to train all teachers on more effective ways of instilling discipline and communicating the same to parents.

Government alone cannot solve this problem. Parents, social workers, legal  and health experts, teachers, children and parents must all have a respectful dialogue. This way, the conversation would yield solutions where everyone is heard. The debate on returning the cane only helps to show adults are defeated and lack creativity in addressing solutions in a dynamic world.

-          Evelyn Jepkemei , PhD, is an education scholar and researcher. [email protected]


Related Topics


Trending Now


Popular this week