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Report: Why teachers and mothers lead in physical abuse

 A little girl crying in her room. [Getty Images]

Teachers have been singled out as top perpetrators of physical violence, according to a new survey, lifting the lid on possible continued use of the outlawed corporal punishment in schools.

While school is perceived as a safe space for learners at risk of violence, victims interviewed for the survey indicate they had suffered physical harm in the hands of teachers more than anyone else.

The survey titled Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2022 is done by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics and the Ministry of Health. It sampled 42,300 households.

It looks at, among other things, perpetrators of gender-based violence among men aged between 15-54 and women between 15-49.

The statistics indicate men were the main victims of physical abuse perpetrated by teachers. For married men 28 per cent of those interviewed had experienced physical violence in hands of teachers, followed by current wives or intimate partners at 20 per cent.

The picture is grimmer among unmarried men as nearly half that, 46 per cent, indicate they had been physically abused by teachers.

On the other hand, former classmates/schoolmates were the second likely physical abusers among unmarried men, further opening scrutiny over possible incidents of bullying in schools.

For unmarried women, teachers again sit at the top of physical abusers with 33 per cent of the surveyed pointing to teachers as their physical abusers.

The report further finds mothers/stepmothers as physical abusers at 25 per cent against unmarried women.

The story is different for married women though as the main perpetrator of violence is their spouse. Statistics show unlike all other victims, only 5.8 per cent of married women pointed to teachers as main offenders.

Instead, they were more likely to face physical abuse from their current husband or intimate partner (54 per cent), followed by a former husband/intimate partner (34 per cent).

On sexual violence, both men and women were likely to suffer sexual abuse from their current spouse or intimate partner; with women bearing the blunt of sexual abuse.

However, a minimal number of those surveyed indicated having suffered sexual violence from teachers; this includes 1.4 per cent of married women surveyed and 1.5 per cent of married men.

In 2019, the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) indicated it had struck 29 teachers off its register for sexual misconduct with learners. The incidents happened between May and November 2018.

Another 32 teachers had been struck off TSC register over the same misconduct in 2018.

While announcing the disciplinary action, TSC chief executive Nancy Macharia said cases of teacher-student sexual relations contributed to increased teenage pregnancy among learners.

Corporal punishment

Corporal punishment was banned in 2001 then outlawed in Kenya after promulgation of the 2010 Constitution. However, a UN report indicates corporal punishment in schools continues in many countries even where it is legally banned, often with support of parents.

Returning corporal punishment

In Kenya, the option to reintroduce caning in schools has featured prominently in search for solutions to student unrest and notoriety.

Immediate former Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha in 2021 called for re-introduction of the cane following a wave of student unrest soon after reopening from Covid-19 shutdown that saw schools closed for nine months.

Prof Magoha, in defence of corporal punishment, argued that caning learners was necessary and could help curb indiscipline cases that saw riots, incidents of arson and attack on teachers.

He pushed for students involved in any form of unrest or indiscipline boarding criminal activities in school to be charged in a court of law.

He also suggested that learners should not be readmitted to any school.

Corporal punishment is outlawed under Chapter four of the Constitution; The Bill of Rights.

It is a protected chapter of the Constitution that cannot be amended without a referendum.

This complicates any push to re-introduce caning back to class as it would need a popular vote or referendum, according to constitutional lawyer Nelson Havi.

The law states that every person has the right to freedom and security of the person, which includes the right not to be subjected to corporal punishment.

Article 53 (1) re-affirms that every child “has the right ... to be protected from abuse, neglect, harmful cultural practices, all forms of violence, inhuman treatment and punishment, and hazardous or exploitative labour.”

Psychological impact

Psychiatrist and former head of Mathare hospital, Thuranira Kaugiria, indicates that experiencing violence as a child has huge consequences for mental, physical health and educational outcomes.

“Children spend more time in school than anywhere else outside their home, and schools are seen as safe spaces for learners from abusive households but if violence is extended to school they will opt out or it would affect their performance,” Kaugiria told The Standard.

He further said studies linked children experiencing corporal punishment tend to exhibit high hormonal reactivity to stress, overloaded biological systems, including the nervous, cardiovascular and nutritional systems, and changes in brain structure and function.

But to stop using violent discipline, Kaugiria says, teachers need to be equipped with a range of alternative discipline strategies they can use in the classroom.

The World Health Organisation indicates that corporal punishment is linked to a range of negative outcomes for children.

This includes physical and mental ill-health, impaired cognitive and socio-emotional development, poor educational outcomes, increased aggression and perpetration of violence.

In a document published in 2021, WHO indicates that around 60% of children aged 2–14 regularly suffer physical punishment by their parents or other caregivers.

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