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Teachers’ dilemma: to smack pupils or not to

. . . mixed signals from authorities in education sector

MATHATISI SEBUSI

MASERU – Corporal punishment has for a long time caused confusion among teachers, students, parents and human rights lawyers.

While teachers believe it is a way of forcing children to do their work and a way to set them on the way to a better future, students, parents and human rights lawyers label it as child abuse which does not benefit children in anyway but causes more harm than good.

In Lesotho it is the norm to smack a child not with the intention to hurt but to reprimand despite the fact that 30 years ago, world leaders, Lesotho included, adopted United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child; an international agreement on the treatment of children.

The convention has become the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history and has helped transform children’s lives around the world.

The convention, among others, advocates the abolition of all forms of corporal punishment and among the 194 countries that have ratified it, 42 countries prohibit all forms of corporal punishment compared to only four in 1989 when the convention was adopted.

Lesotho signed the treaty on 21 August 1990.

The concern and confusion on corporal punishment worsened after the Ministry of Education and Training was sued on numerous occasions by parents of students who were injured or died after being “smacked” by teachers.

Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Education and Training Thabang Lebese says corporal punishment is illegal in Lesotho and any teacher that practices it in can be jailed.

He said the Education Act of 2010 and the education codes of good practice of 2011 categorically stipulate that corporal punishment has to be abandoned as it is against the law.

“The Education Act of 2010 and the Education code of conduct of 2011 clearly state that corporal punishment is illegal and a child who got smacked by a teacher can open a case against such a teacher and disciplinary action will be taken toward the teacher.

“We have been telling schools to abandon corporal punishment but our efforts proved futile as even now a lot of schools still smack students,” he said.

He said the ministry has spoken to school principals and teachers’ unions but schools still practice corporal punishment and harm students in the process.

“Teachers and principals know that it is against the law to smack students at school but they do it any way.

“We have a case at Pitseng High School where a teacher hit a student on the head, the student had complications with his head and the beating made his condition worse and as a result his ears were affected. His parents are demanding that the Ministry of Education and Training compensate their child to the tune of M750 000.

“We also have a case at Likoena High School in Mohale’s Hoek where a child was also beaten and the beating worsened his delicate health condition, as a result the student died.

“The parent is suing the ministry and the case is currently before the court.

“We have another case at Mazenod High School where a student was beaten as a result of which his arteries got swollen. That child’s hand does not function anymore and the ministry paid him M250 000 compensation,” Lebese said.

He said the Government through the Ministry of Education needs to reinforce the derelict teachers’ council which teachers will subscribe and account to.

He said the body will appraise teachers every month to remind them about ethical procedures they have to follow when attending to students.

“What I mean is we need to revive the teaching council so that it can be effective like other councils.

“It is only here in Lesotho in the education department where we have a non-functional teaching council because of the way it was created by the constitution,” Lebese noted.

Chairperson of Lesotho Association for Teachers (LAT) Letsatsi Ntsibulane disagrees with the education PS.

He said there is nowhere in the Education Act of 2010 where it is stipulated that corporal punishment should be abolished. This starkly contradicts the PS.

He said the idea to abolish corporal punishment is mentioned in the Bill attached at the back of the Act with provision that it will later be included in the Education Act.

He said corporal punishment is mentioned at the back of the Act under the statement of objectives and reasons of the Education Act of 2010 with provision that it will be amended and turned into an Act.

“The Bill abolishes corporal punishment at schools in accordance with section 8 of the constitution which provides that a person shall not be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading punishment,” reads part of the bill listed at the back of the Education Act of 2010.

Ntsibulane said as far as he is concerned, there is no Act or law in Lesotho that abolishes corporal punishment, however, he said its absence or presence does not make any change in his view towards corporal punishment.

He said he does not see anything wrong with smacking a child to reprimand him. He said smacking children is and has always been an African way of raising children which for that matter is aligned with the bible.

Ntsibulane noted that there is, however, a difference between smacking and abusing a child.

“I do not support child abuse but believe that smacking a child will not hurt him in the long run but will shape him into a responsible being.

“The problem is today’s leaders are a confused generation whose practices are not aligned with their vows and the bible as they claim.

“When ministers take oath (of office), they promise to do things that are aligned with the bible but mostly fail to.

“Proverbs 23 verse 13 (New international version) reads, “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish them with a rod, they will not die.

“Proverb 22 verse 15 reads ‘Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.

“While proverb 19 verse 18 reads ‘Discipline your children while they are young enough to learn. If you don’t, you are helping them destroy themselves,” Ntsibulane quoted some scriptures from the bible.

He said today, the same leaders that promised to be guided by the bible are telling them to stop smacking children and adopt foreign morals.

“The problem with Lesotho is that the leaders compromise their culture, morals, norms and who they are and adopt foreign value systems so that they can be given handouts.

“Apart from the bible, Sesotho culture encourages reprimanding of children.

“There is a saying ‘hupa e o tlolloa esale metsi’. Therefore, I, Letsatsi Ntsibulane will not abuse a child but will smack him if that means saving him from destroying his future,” he emphasised.

Chairperson of Democratic Congress Women’s League, Mamotseki Sekete said she sees nothing wrong with corporal punishment.

She said as a mother, she raised her two daughters smacking them and also being smacked at school and as result grew up into a respectful and responsible women.

“I won’t stay in my house with a child that I cannot reprimand, so why should teachers that spend most of the time with children let them go astray and not reprimand them.

“I grew up being smacked and there was and still is nothing wrong with that. What I condemn is child abuse. There is a thin line between smacking a child and beating him.

“The only thing that is needed is for people to be able to differentiate between the two,” Sekete said.

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