By Kiundu Waweru
"My child was thoroughly whipped all over the body," read a distress email sent to The Standard’s Point Blank in October last year.
The parent from Western Kenya said that two teachers randomly beat her daughter in the presence of the deputy principal.
"The mistake was that she had writings on her arm of a name that was supposed to be her boyfriend’s," read the email.
It went on: "A boarding mistress and a Kiswahili teacher randomly beat her in the presence of the school deputy principal, who also gave her corporal punishment and sent her home, together with six others."
The six girls missed district evaluation exams. The parent agrees that students need to be disciplined. The girl had confessed to having a boyfriend, a high school teacher from a neighbouring school.
"We do not approve of such behaviour. However, don’t you think such an issue requires counselling and not mob whipping," she poses.
The distressed parent says that it was difficult taking up the issue after being informed by the Parents Teachers Association class representative that corporal punishment in the school has the blessing of the Board of Governors.
This kind of harsh treatment is still happening in schools almost ten years after corporal punishment was outlawed in Kenyan schools in 2001 by the Government through a legal notice. Through several studies over the years, it has emerged that corporal punishment is still rampant in schools, sometimes leading to injury and even death.
The latest study conducted by Plan International titled Learn Without Fear; Working with Children towards Child Friendly Schools notes that corporal punishment — the use of physical force to inflict pain on children — is common in schools across the world, Kenya included.
The United Nations Study on Violence Against Children (UNVAC) of 2005 called on all countries to ban corporal punishment of children by 2009.
Despite this call, 88 countries out of 197 monitored by the Global Initiative to end all corporal punishment of children were found to have legally permitted teachers to physically punish children under their care.
The study says that the violence is both physical and psychological and that it happens simultaneously.
The violence in schools include corporal punishment, bullying and sexual and emotional abuse.
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In the Plan International study conducted in four schools in Kenya, which are Riruta HGM, Jamhuri, Muthangari and Kawangware and which surveyed 142 pupils from Class Four to Seven, all pupils said that their teachers cane them. As the survey included 14 members of the School Management Committee, the committees gave conflicting answers, saying caning rarely occurs in schools.
Some percentage of the children said they develop fear after caning while others said they felt offended by caning. At Jamhuri Primary School, a pupil is quoted in the report as saying: "Fear is not a factor and it is just a monster inside us." Another from Kawangware Primary School said: "Teach a child to fear and he or she will learn to lie and hate."
In its global campaign against violence in schools, Plan International says that corporal punishment is the number one violence against children, but which is often defended in the name of tradition and religion.
They recommend several alternatives to caning and abuses rampant in Kenyan schools.
Before 2001, a section in the Education Act allowed corporal punishment in particular in instances of indiscipline.
But in a gazette notice in 2001, the then Minster for Education, Kalonzo Musyoka, scrapped the law.
The Children’s Act, 2001 also prohibits corporal punishment.
The Constitution of Kenya, 2010, is also clear about this issue. Article 29 states: "Every person has the right to freedom and security of the person, which includes the right not to be subjected to any form of violence from either public or private sources. In part (e) one is not to be subjected to corporal punishment."
Corporal punishment is also prohibited in all settings, including the home and alternative settings.
But what is a teacher to do when confronted by an undisciplined child? The Plan International’s Learn Without Fear study recommends some alternative measures of punishment.
In its campaign in schools, the study recommends the use of yellow and red cards. The study, done in collaboration with the Little Sports Organisation, says that 99 per cent of the sampled children think that the yellow and red card strategy would help instil good values without creating fear as other forms of discipline like caning and abuse would do. The pupils understood the yellow and red cards disciplinary action popular with the football game, to mean need for behaviour change, symbol of bad behaviour, indiscipline, correcting without using a cane and punishment for doing wrong.
"The children mention that this strategy would work because it focuses on teaching pupils good behaviour and discipline," says the study.
Some parents and teachers believe that when you spare the rod, you spoil the child.
However, Mr John Muthiora, the Principal of Strathmore School, in an earlier interview with The Standard noted indiscipline does not have to be dealt with this way.
He said dealing with cases of indiscipline in the school is a process.
"There is no corporal punishment, and teachers are advised against humiliating students in public," he said. Instead, they use a behaviour sheet system where teachers enter cases of indiscipline against the responsible student. At the end of the day, the sheets are taken to head of secondary section. At the end of the year, it’s easy for the administration to see the behaviour of each student. If one has cumulative entries in the sheet, a section committee meets to decide if the student needs a warning letter.