Corporal punishment: Outlawed yet embraced – decoding the dilemma

Through the Children Act 2022 (section 25 (3) (b) (c)), Kenya formally repealed the right of parents and others to
Through the Children Act 2022 (section 25 (3) (b) (c)), Kenya formally repealed the right of parents and others to "administer reasonable punishment" to children; corporal punishment shall not be inflicted upon a child by any person. PHOTO/Courtesy.

Recently, posts of video clips and photos have been going viral on social media showing teachers inflicting disastrous corporal punishment on their learners. 

The larger audience of concerned stakeholders and the government has criticized this. 

Some educators have faced the consequences of their actions by being arrested and charged.

Discipline in schools has been a major problem all over the country, and it is a matter of concern for all the stakeholders in the Ministry of Education. 

While most secondary schools in Kenya struggle to find alternative corrective measures against improper behavior among learners, there is an increase in indiscipline cases in both private and public secondary schools. 

Kenya banned corporal punishment in 2001 through the Children Act 2001. Indiscipline, a rare phenomenon in the past, has since escalated and become more noticeable.

Background and outlawing of corporal punishment

Research reveals that at a World’s Conference on Education for All in Dakar in 2000, Kenya was cited as having institutionalized violence and promoting child abuse by including corporal punishment in its statutes. 

Responding to this, in a gazette notice dated March 13, 2001, the then Minister of Education, Dr. Kalonzo Musyoka, scrapped the sections of the law that permitted corporal punishment.

Recently, with the enactment of the Children Act 2022 (section 25 (3) (b) (c)), Kenya formally repealed the right of parents and others to “administer reasonable punishment” to children. Kenya now explicitly confirms that corporal punishment shall not be inflicted upon a child by any person.  

Often, corporal punishment makes youngsters lose self-esteem and resort to hatred, seclusion and fear. PHOTO/Courtesy.

Corporal punishment had been blatantly abused by some teachers, leading to serious injuries and, sometimes, the death of pupils.

“Mentally, children suffer from the effects of corporal punishment. Among the most outrageous impacts are mental torture, low self-esteem, fear, feelings of hate, and sometimes adverse effects on children living with lifestyle diseases, which may cause death,” reveals Welt Otugha, a nurse at Nightingale Medical Center, Kisumu county. 

In recent years, indiscipline among students has taken the form of outright violence. 

Some students have clobbered their teachers to death, set their schools on fire, and damaged property worth colossal amounts of money. 

This is in addition to abuse of alcohol, drugs, and other harmful substances.

“There’s the rise of unheard-of indiscipline cases like truancy, substance abuse, theft of colleagues’ items, and frequent unrests. These were very rare anciently. This is one of the reasons teachers may want to scare students with canes to curtail such cultures,” said Mr. Oduol George of St. Mary’s Ukwala High School, Siaya county. 

Through purposive sampling, several school heads and teachers were selected and interviewed to get their views on the outlawing of corporal punishment and the current situation in schools. The representative sample opinions form an integral part of this study.

Study aim, findings

This study sought to determine the impact of the ban on corporal punishment on the discipline issue of students in public secondary schools, the causes of indiscipline, the nature of indiscipline, reasons for corporal punishment, disciplinary procedures, and, discipline management procedures.

Respondents to this study were in many ways concordant with the findings of other researchers. 

Among the discipline problems experienced, disobedience was ranked highest at 80 percent of the total population interviewed, followed by fighting and bullying. Lateness and stealing were the least experienced discipline problems. Others felt that learners take advantage to the extent of organizing and perpetrating unnecessary unrest in school.

“Frequent unrests witnessed in so many schools today result from the presumed ‘softness’ of teachers by the learners. Teachers literary beg children to be on their best behavior, the most wanting approach to misconduct. As much as we don’t want to and it’s perilous, we still take the risk,” one of the respondents said.

Are the teachers innocent of the ongoing bold of the perpetration of corporal punishment despite it being outlawed?

“No! Not all.

Senior Teachers’ role is orienting newly recruited teachers on a school community’s do’s and don’ts. So, it starts with the Headteacher orienting the Deputy, who in turn orients the senior teachers, who in turn orient teachers under their charge, in primary schools. 

Punishing learners in a shame-inflicting way or by making them look different from their colleagues leads to withdrawal and other psychological effects on them. PHOTO/Courtesy.

In Secondary Schools, the Heads of Departments must orient and mentor newly recruited teachers in their respective departments.

 In both setups, the orientation must include the common offenses in the school and the kind of correction to be administered. 

Besides this, teachers need to read more than their pupils. Often, teachers who resent being challenged by their learners are the ones that mistreat their learners,” says Kasanda Mwila, Teacher-Trainer and Communication Skills Lecturer at Mopani Central Training Center in Mufulira, Zambia.

Teachers need to be counseled, but they should also be constantly protected and trained with equal weight. This is not on students’ heads wholly. Some are teacher-based orientations.

“Before discussing students’ indiscipline, let’s talk about some or most teachers’ frustrations leading them to brutal actions! Some teachers have marital or relationship problems; others are into drugs, alcoholism, etc., beyond acceptable levels. Most teachers are underpaid and they take revenge not on employers but on clients (students and parents).

So, teachers must be well-vetted not only by experts but also by school boards. Successful candidates in the vetting must be paid accordingly and never underpaid,” substantiated Eugine Fellonja, a Writer, Activist, and Member of the Bleeding Ink Global Writers Society.

Why do some teachers prefer corporal punishment as a disciplinary measure?

Corporal punishment, in many instances, is used as a deterrent to prevent students from committing repeated behavioral wrongdoings. According to the U.S. Department of Education (2001a), the utilization of corporal punishment in schools may reduce serious behavioral offenses.

Research by Yancy (2001) supports the concept that when a student receives corporal punishment for a behavioral offense, that student may remember the pain and humiliation of the corporal punishment and be less likely to repeat the same offense in the future.

Corporal punishment has been used as a discipline management mechanism in Kenya since the inception of formal education by colonialists and is currently one of the most-ranging and controversial issues in education in the world. 

Responding to this, one of the educators (identity withheld) says that corporal punishment was abolished by the law but not by the beholders. 

“We don’t use corporal punishment because we love violence; and we wish this was not the case, especially in contemporary society. But we are overwhelmed by the drastic rise in indiscipline among teenagers. It’s disgusting, and because I still believe in the saying, ‘Spare the rod and spoil the child’, it’s extremely hard to sit back and watch youngsters make grave mistakes,” the educator explained.

“Nobody likes pain; it is not normal to find a kid enjoying the effects of caning. This is why teachers have repeatedly used corporal punishment despite its ban,” said Mr. Richard Obadha, Principal, Kabondo Kasipul Secondary School, Homabay County.  

Corporal punishment is cheap and easy to administer compared to other forms of corrective measures such as guidance and counseling, a counselor is required and monetary implications can be necessary for such programs.

Some teachers prefer the out-lawed corporal punishment citing that it is easy to administer, even for large numbers of students. PHOTO/Courtesy.

Most teachers felt that it is easy to cane a student instantly and correct misbehavior as compared to other forms of punishment.

It saves time, the fear of physical pain characteristically motivates students not to re-offend, corporal punishment is adjustable to the intensity of the mistake, and it is fair for all because all fear pain and that corporal punishment does no permanent or irreversible damage to students are among the reasons some teachers prefer the out-lawed punishment.

Are alternative corrective measures working?

Some educators suggested that alternative measures to corporal punishment were not very effective in curbing learner indiscipline in schools.

It was, however, agreeable that most of these measures have been extremely helpful.

According to the Deputy Principal of St. Mary’s Ukwala High School, Mr. Fredrick Shitubi, students should not be caned.

Pain should not be inflicted on them to change unwanted behavior.

He argues that, like any other living animal, fear, withdrawal, self-doubt, and low self-esteem cloud learners when exposed to harsh environments.

“We do more guidance and counseling; if learners do not exhibit behavior change after some time, we also employ exclusions. It has worked in Ukwala High School, and it can work elsewhere. We only ‘cane’ them by the word of mouth,” Mr. Shitubi asserted. 

On the other hand, manual work was the most preferred discipline management procedure, followed by guidance and counseling.

However, a section of the teachers argues that even though corporal punishment is offensive and violent, there are cases where canning is the ultimate solution to indiscipline. 

“Counselling works, it’s effective against indiscipline, but it depends on the kind of misconduct. Most indiscipline issues are minor and happen only in classrooms; it is hard to counsel some petty crimes and I’m sure a teacher who’s not mentally or emotionally challenged would not overreact when administering the caning,” said Ms. Lynn Ohaga, Head of Guidance and Counseling Department, Ukwala Boys High School.

Researchers have advocated for the establishment of strong Guidance and Counseling programs in school, referrals to professional Counselors, involvement of the students, Board of Members (BOM), and Parent-Teacher Associations (PTA) in formulating explicit school rules and regulations, and ensuring good staff relations within the school environment.

In most schools, guidance and counseling departments have always taken the lead in this battle.

“We appoint teachers to talk to learners about their issues. It is, however, sad to agree that not all teachers know their responsibilities concerning guidance and counseling. There should be a properly established curriculum at higher institutions where teachers may undergo training.

Curriculum developers should make all teachers counselors,” added Ms. Ohaga.

Way forward

There is a loud outcry by educators, parents, and authorities against the rise of indiscipline cases. All the stakeholders should be concerned about ensuring an ultimate solution to this bizarre.

In his words, the educator, lawmaker, and Pan-Africanist, Prof. PLO Lumumba, “No matter how educated you are, no matter how rich you are, if you do not have the gift of discipline then you are a danger to society… Be disciplined that you may be a good global citizen…”

YOU CAN ALSO READ: RESEARCH PAPER: Is your education educating you?

Discipline is a key facilitator of fruitful citizenship.

Society should not only be educated on academic excellence, success, and wealth literacy but also on discipline.

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Mr. Otieno is a Literature enthusiast, an English/Literature teacher, a writer, poet, playwright, and novelist. He is the President of the Bleeding Ink Global Writers Society, a detail-oriented columnist, and a literary critic. His contact:


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