Sri Lanka adopts tougher policy against corporal punishment


Last week Jayantha Prema Kumara Siriwardhana, a ‘teacher’ at Puhulwella Central College of Matara district in Sri Lanka was found guilty of violating the fundamental rights of a 15-year-old student by beating him and rupturing his eardrum. Writes Sir Frank Peters

Corporal punishment has been kicked about and given another well-deserved beating.

This time it was put on the rack, held up to ridicule, and tortured by the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka.

Hauled before the court was the school Principal, Zonal Director of Education, Secretaries to the Ministry of Education, and the Attorney General.

After hearing the evidence, the ‘teacher’ was ordered to pay the boy 150,000 Sri Lanka Rupees (65,000-taka approx.), while the government was ordered to pay him Rs. 500,000 (about 217,000 taka approx.).

The panel of Supreme Court judges comprising justices S. Thurairajah, Sisira de Abrew and Murdu Fernando said the student’s rights had been violated.

The Sri Lankan constitution states ‘no person shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’.

When corporal punishment was outlawed in Bangladesh on January 13, 2011 by justices Md. Imman Ali and Md. Sheikh Hasan Arif defined the horrible act as ‘cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and a clear violation of a child’s fundamental right to life, liberty and freedom’.

The Sri Lankan Supreme Court justices, in a lengthy judgment, held that corporal punishment is not a method of disciplining students and there is a responsibility on the State to ensure its eradication,” counsel Thishya Weragoda noted on social media.

Justice Sithampbarampillai Thurairajah, PC said: “Corporal Punishment as a method of discipline is ineffective for multiple reasons.”
He went on to say, “Corporal punishment is used by adults for the simple reason that physical violence is more likely to bring instant compliance, but it’s wrong and ineffective.

“This method of correction teaches children to fear violence and normalizes violence as opposed to bringing any sense of understanding of the wrong committed or of the true societal value of discipline,” he said.

“The behaviour is avoided in the future not due to understanding of the wrong committed, but due to the trauma of violence. Encouraging corporal violence normalizes violence, undermines the dignity of a child, and inflicts trauma in children, which is reflected in unhealthy and disruptive behaviour as adults. Corporal Punishment disregards the integrity, autonomy, and dignity of each child.

“We must also recognise that adults are protected by law from similar incidents as it would amount to criminal use of force, assault, and other crimes against the person. Children as minors and vulnerable members of the society, when hit, injured, traumatized in the name of discipline or punishment, must not be left defenceless and unheard when faced with such violence.
“Normalizing violence as in the instant case is unacceptable as this leaves voiceless minors vulnerable in the face of mental and physical violence and trauma, and we, as an institution of Justice would be failing in our duty to allow for such normalization of violence and victimization of children.”

So, if we’re not barbarians, how is it possible to perform such barbaric acts on children – the most defenceless and vulnerable members of society? Don’t expect to find the answer here, but here are a few examples of the barbarous acts:

  • The hand of an eight-year old student in Pindigheb, Pakistan, was fractured and the poor kid had bruises all over his body when his ignorant brutish ‘teacher’ vented his anger upon him. The ‘teacher’ was suspended.

+ A Class Eight girl at Kibargoyet Primary School in Elgeyo Marakwet County, Kenya, was left paralysed from the waist down and is now using a wheelchair after she was hit by teachers with a piece of wood that damaged her spine.

+  Azile Mbokhwe, a ‘teacher’ in South Africa, lashed a pupil 55-times… yes you read correctly 55-times… on her palm and the back of her right hand with a stick, fracturing bones. But… but… but the sordid story doesn’t end there.

The student testified that Mbokhwe first administered 15 lashes on the back of her right hand. The girl withdrew her arm after the 15th lash, but this only enraged Mbokhwe. She added 20 more strokes on the back and palm of her hand. A little while later, Mbokhwe decided to hit the learner another 20 times!

Mbokhwe was sacked by the school, but then had the audacity to cry foul and take the school to court claiming her dismissal was unfair! – Unbelievable! Needless to say, the case was thrown out of court.

If you’re thinking all of these horrific, unkind, inhuman incidents happened overseas and not in Bangladesh, you’re right. Don’t think for one moment, however, they cannot happen here because they already have – some even worse. Some stories reach the printing presses of the national dailies, but the majority does not.

Only ignorant parents would send their children to a school knowing it to practice corporal punishment and risk damaging their child for life.

It is a well-known fact that corporal punishment just doesn’t work, it is evil and wrong and performed by evil, ignorant, or shameless people (or a combination of all three).

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting a different result.

The time has come for the Bangladesh Ministry of Education to strike off the insane from its monthly payroll and establish an all-sane, all-professional teaching squad.

Mistakes have been made in the past 50-years and recognized for what they are. Coronavirus Covid-19 has provided the necessary pause to reassess the situation and take appropriate action. Mistakes in the education system should not be carried forward to spoil the bright new era that’s beckoning Bangladesh.

Joy Bangla… and a good life to one and all, including school students.

Sir Frank Peters, a regular contributor to Blitz is a columnist, right activist and writer, humanitarian, and foreign friend of Bangladesh.


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