Corporal punishment has been an issue of discussion over the years. The debate as to whether or not corporal punishment must be banned continues to linger some NGOs and corporate societies are at the war front for the ban on corporal punishment.
It has been the only means of punishment in our primary schools and is used even in second cycle institutions.
All of us may have at one time or another suffered a corporal punishment in our school days for one action or another. In schools, corporal punishment ranges from kneeling to standing, picking of rubbish and the most common, canning.
Corporal punishment may be explained as the infliction of pain on a person for a wrong done, normally by hitting the person in a premeditated manner. Canning which involves the striking of students with a stick has generated so much popularity that it is the only means of discipline among many elementary and high schools across the nation. This punishment is mostly administered by the headmaster, teachers and at times school prefects. The big question therefore comes to mind; what is the effect of corporal punishment on our young ones? Is it actually true that if you spare the rod you actually spoil the child? What are the legal consequences of such form of punishment; is it legal or illegal?
Under Section 41(d) of the Criminal Offences Act, 1960 (Act 29), it provides among others that, a father or guardian may delegate power of punishment of his legitimate or illegitimate child under 16 years to a person expressly but in the case of a school master, such delegation is presumed unless expressly revoked by the parent. A question then arises as to who is a school master? Is it the headmaster, school teacher or the school prefects? Or can it be any person who has authority over the child and in whose custody the child is kept? According to the Deputy Director General of the Ghana Education Service, Mr. Charles A. Tsegah, Corporal punishment is solely preserved for the head of the school(21st June, 2013myjoyonline.com)The interpretation of Mr. Tsegah could suggest that the only person having implied consent of a parent to punish a child per the Act is the headmaster. Can it therefore mean that all other persons, including the teachers require the express consent of the parent?
This also calls in mind the legal principle delegatus non protest delegare, literally translated to mean a person to whom power is delegated cannot by himself further delegate power. Applying this principle to the exposition of the law as stated above, a headmaster to whom power of punishment has been delegated to by law cannot on his own further delegate that same power to a teacher or a school prefect. We must not forget that, other than the headmaster, all other persons require express consent of the parent. Another question comes; are our schools engaging in an illegality?
An issue in point is the manner in which the punishment is carried out? Canning in school may take different forms depending on the gravity of the offence committed. It could begin from a single stroke to multiple strokes. It could also be done on the back, the buttocks, palms or even the head. Where a student commits a grievous offence, he may be stretched by four strong boys and be subjected to a parade of strokes. On 16th May, 2013, it was reported by myjoyonline.com of how a final year SHS student sustained several marks on his body as a result of canning by a teacher.
Under Section 41(f) of the criminal offences Act (Act 29), no form of punishment shall be justified, which is unreasonable in kind or degree with regard to the age as well as the physical and mental conditions of the person to whom it is inflicted. I once remember my class two teacher asked me to choose between my palm, head or calf for which part he should hit me for getting 9 out of 10 in a math test. The usual cliché follows, 1 wrong, 2 canes. You can imagine what happened to my friend Isaac who scored 0 out of 10. Is this form of punishment not contrary to the Act? The saddest days of school I remember, was when our Math teacher enters the class with a bunch of canes and our end of term Mathematics answer booklets. The people spared were those who score a 100%. We used to call it the judgment day. But one thing we have forgotten is that, the canes are brought by the students themselves. Our Pre-technical skills teacher preferred his cane soaked in kerosene for days or wrapped with cello tape before presentation. What sort of wickedness and barbarism occur in our schools all under the guise of discipline? Article 15(1) of the 1992 constitution of Ghana uphold the right to human dignity but here are our most vulnerable subjected to all forms of inhumane and degrading treatment all in the name of punishment!
Do you remember the usual phrase used by our teachers for communal punishment put your heads on the table, after which all students are canned at their backs normally because a single person was talking in class. What about the times students are canned for the failure of their parents to pay their school fees, examination printing fees and other financial obligations? The student is reminded afterwards to bring it the next day. I refer to this punishment as the punishment of the innocent because they have done no wrong to be punished. Do you also remember early morning math mental? Our teacher referred to it as an)pa koko literally translated as morning porridge. The teacher would ask a number of math sums and every student that gives a wrong answer gets a stroke of his cane already lifted high up in the sky. This could take about four rounds. But believe it or not, a single student could get all wrong and receive the punishment all the time. After wailing, the students are seated and are expected to understand lessons for the day after the torture and trauma they have been subjected to that morning. What sort of inhuman treatment is this?
Anas Aremeyaw Anas, an ace investigative journalist, in an interview with some teachers on why they canned students reported that the only language the African student understands is the cane. But we must not forget that in the process we teach our young ones that violence is the only means of correction. No wonder civil wars dominate Africa!
Are the whites better than us? They do not use canes on their students but they are the best worldwide. Their students do not weed in school but they produce the best farmers. Their students are not canned but they are the most disciplined. If we use the canes on our cattle and use the same canes on our school children, then what are we trying to tell them?
Mr. Tsegah (citifmonline.com June 20, 2013) stated that corporal punishment cannot be banned but I say we can do better. Some countries have successfully done it, why not Africa? There are several ways we can punish students without using the cane, it is up to us to find them. In quoting Anas Aremeyaw Anas, if you do not want the child to write on the wall, give him a paper, if you do not want him to play in the classroom, provide a field.
I urge the National Union of Ghana Students, the Advocacy Group KNUST and all other groups and organization who have child rights at heart to take up the mantle for the fight against corporal punishment. Article 15(1) of the 1992 constitution of Ghana provides that the right to human dignity is inviolable; the African child is no exception.
Former Legal Affairs Commissioner KNUST
Former Advocacy group president KNUST
Source: Gyamfi Albert
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