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Child brutality in the guise of discipline seems to be everywhere in Dominica, in public and in the privacy of our homes. It seems to be okay in modern Dominica to brutalize children on the pretext that we are bringing them up to be better adults.

Over the past two weeks we witnessed two incidents of child abuse: a grown man was brutally beating a child with a large belt in the verandah of his home, in the full view of the public, while the child howled in pain. A few days later a woman was sadistically beating a young boy repeatedly on his legs with a metal hanger as the child screamed like a butchered animal. Dominicans walked by and stared; no one intervened.

We keep hearing and reading in the press that a group of individuals and institutions have formed an advocacy group to help reduce the number of incidents of child abuse in Dominica but that group seemed to be focused on the sexual aspect of the problem; it has largely ignored the fact that child brutality is sanctioned by the State.

A few years ago the Welfare Division of the Ministry of Community Development executed a number of activities in observance of Child Abuse Awareness Week. As part of their programme, Martin Anthony and the other officers of that division created an interesting theme for that programme entitled: There is no Excuse for Child Abuse, Save the Nation's Children. But throughout the campaign the Division paid little attention to the fact that the Government that it serves approves of one of the worst forms of child abuse- corporal punishment in schools.

Quite understandably, the messages of the awareness week focused mainly on the sexual abuse of children because that abhorrent form of abuse requires all the attention it deserves. Nevertheless, we believe that the State sends a negative message to the perpetrators of all forms of abuse of children, sexual and otherwise, when it approves of the abuse of children through corporal punishment in schools.

The Education Act of 2007 states that "corporal punishment may be administered" in primary and secondary schools although the Act restricts the administration of corporal punishment to principals, deputy principals and designated teachers. We assume that regulation also pertains to institutions of early childhood education, such as preschools and day care centres, since the Early Childhood Education Regulation of 2003 makes no mention of corporal punishment.

Few persons have noted that while the media is being inundated with anti- child abuse messages, girls, boys including toddlers were being canned, slapped, spanked, shaken, pinched and generally brutalized by authoritative figures throughout the education system in Dominica. Education Minister, Petter St. Jean, you know that, don't you?

And Sir, we are sure you are aware that the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child defines corporal punishment as "any punishment in which physical force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort, however light". And that committee has determined that there's no excuse for the continuation of corporal punishment in schools and homes because it violates the human rights of the child under the UN Convention which ensures children are safeguarded against all forms of abuse and exploitation. In a study produced for the UN General Assembly, the Committee has emphasized that "no violence against children is justifiable; all violence against children is preventable."

The case against the use of corporal punishment is straightforward: it damages children physically and emotionally. In the former case, the cuts and bruises and occasionally the disabilities are easily seen. For instance, the Jamaica Observer newspaper reported a few years ago that 11 year old Tajoery Small was left virtually blind in one eye because of an accident in 2009 as a result of an attempt at corporal punishment. The newspaper also indicated that hundreds of thousands of dollars had been spent on the boy's medical bills including a corneal transplant costing US$20,000.

On the other hand, the emotional damage caused by corporal punishment is much more difficult to measure but no less damaging to the well-being of the child. The scientific evidence published in the literature on the subject points to symptoms such as chronic depression and low self-esteem as well as psychological mal-adjustment at home and at school. Most importantly corporal punishment teaches a child lessons he never forgets: violence is the means by which conflict has to be resolved. Undoubtedly, corporal punishment perpetuates a cycle of violence.

Many teachers and parents will scoff at the idea of banning corporal punishment in schools grappling with the control of rampant ill-discipline. They are likely to say that the old adage, "spare the rod and spoil the child" has served them well in the past and that the banning of corporal punishment is a recipe for schools to become war zones. Schools, they will argue, will quickly become disaster areas, teachers would be unsafe and the current high levels of violence in schools would become the new normal.

But we are firmly of the view that corporal punishment has been implemented in schools and homes for decades yet levels of ill-discipline continue to escalate. Corporal punishment is counterproductive because the most disruptive students consider it to be a badge of honour and as ineffective as water poured on the dasheen leaf. Punishment and discipline are not synonymous.

We, therefore, urge Education Minister St. Jean to serious consider the banning of corporal punishment in schools and the implementation of an intensive education programme aimed at teachers, parents and school administrators.


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