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Deviance: The case for the rod Legislators, parents, educationists, culturists, religious leaders, psychologists, and human rights advocates are divided; locally and globally, over the use of corporal punishment at home and in schools. (File photo)

Elliot Ziwira
Senior Writer

Come, let us mourn the death of our children — the death of innocence, lost to drugs, bullying, normlessness and other forms of delinquency, as we contemplate sparing the rod and risking obliterating the future!

And, if all else fails, let us blame it on the whirling wind.

Well, each time the issue of discipline or indiscipline comes up in attempts to bring the individual and society to a harmonious cirque, the rod appears, either as the Holy Grail or villainous impediment to progress.

Oftentimes, the matter of the law is raised, with stickers for human rights hollering to high heaven.

Sparing the rod or sparring with the rod, either at home or at school, is always contentious, thus requiring scrutiny.

The Education Amendment Act, 2019 (Act 15-2019), which was gazetted and came into force on March 6, 2020 (Education Amendment Act, 2020), amended, among other principal objectives, various provisions of the Education Act (Chapter 25:04), so that it complies with provisions of the Constitution, with the view to uphold the rights of the child.

Corporal punishment was lawful in Zimbabwean schools before 2017.

A school teacher (defined as the head or deputy head of a school) was authorised “to administer moderate corporal punishment for disciplinary purposes upon any minor male pupil or student” in terms of Article 241 (2) b of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act of 2014.

Among the objectives that the Act seeks to achieve are the rights to State-funded education, further education; the rights of persons with disabilities to be provided with special facilities, the right to human dignity, and the right to freedom from physical or psychological torture or cruel or inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.

These provisions, which the Education Amendment Act, 2020 provides for, articulate the need for equal opportunities for children in an environment that is free of violence, torture and degrading acts, for them to fully realise their potential.

However, some of the provisions in the Act have recently reignited debate in view of the recent ruling by the High Court that corporal punishment was permissible at law if the intent to discipline is proven.

Justice Munamato Mutevedzi made the ruling when he acquitted a Chitungwiza woman, Yeukai Mutero, of the murder of her 12-year-old son finding her action to discipline her son for being initiated into the Nyau cult (zvigure) within confines of the law.

The court found that Mutero used a light switch, did not hit vulnerable parts of the body, had used moderate force, and could not have foreseen the fatal result, which could also have been a result of recent assaults on the boy by others owing to his deviant behaviour.

The subject of corporal punishment, therefore, is critical since it straddles cultural, religious and humanistic platforms.

Because corporal punishment is an emotive issue, for all of us are/have been exposed to it, there is a need to closely look at what constitutes the phenomenon, and what it seeks to achieve or falls short of achieving.

What is corporal punishment?

Though slightly varied, definitions of corporal punishment relate to both physical and psychological forms of punishment, with the physical import manifesting itself in bodily pain through beating, either by hand or objects, and the psychological form involving degradation.

According to Straus and Donnelly (2005), corporal punishment is “the use of physical force intended to cause pain, but not injury, for the purpose of correcting or controlling a child’s behaviour.”

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (General Comment No.8), defines “corporal” or “physical” punishment as, “any punishment in which physical force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort, however light. Most involve hitting (smacking, slapping, spanking) children, with the hand or with an implement– whip, stick, belt, shoe, wooden spoon, etc . . . In the view of the Committee, corporal punishment is invariably degrading.”

And, to Save Our Children Sweden (2005), corporal punishment involves use of physical force or degrading treatment, which causes dissatisfaction or pain to some degree, with the aim to mould, correct, monitor and change the behaviour or manner of the child.

A closer look at the definitions above attest to the fact that a degree of pain is inflicted, however light, and that psychological and physical harm is derived from any form of corporal punishment.

The intention, nevertheless, may be well-meaning — to discipline the child for his/her own good, and that of society, since behaviour, either good or bad, culturally impacts on the social mobility of the community in which the child is raised.

What constitutes discipline?

Discipline, therefore, is key in moulding a child, and such discipline has to be enforced, be it at home or school.

It cannot be ruled out that discipline is a requirement for pupils to derive success in education.

However, how compliant behaviour can be inculcated is what splits proponents for and against corporal punishment.

It is also imperative here to examine what constitutes discipline; and how schools determine policies to regulate behaviour, and how punishment can be meted out on deviants.

Rosen (1997) notes that discipline is a branch of knowledge-training that either develops self-control, character, efficiency, and strict control to enforce obedience, or a treatment aimed at controlling and punishing as a set of rules.

According to Eggleton (2001), discipline is a form of training that moulds, corrects or perfects mental faculties, or regulates moral codes, obedience to rules or authority, and punishment to correct deviant behaviours.

Discipline is central to the debate on corporal punishment, as interlocutors refer to it as being crucial to child development.

Indeed, discipline is key, but should it only be enforced through corporal punishment? Is it not possible for the child to be disciplined without being exposed to physical or psychological harm?

If the child is not disciplined at home, could it be possible for him/her to be disciplined through corporal punishment in school, for they say charity begins at home?

Could it be possible to discipline the child at school through corporal punishment without giving due consideration to reasons for the indiscipline exhibited?

The case for corporal punishment

Theories have been posited for and against corporal punishment, with varying success parameters. Those who argue for raising cultural and religious tenets in the upbringing of the child. The child, they argue, is not raised in a vacuum, because he is a product of society, and therefore, should adhere to societal norms and values on morality and humane traits.

Legislators, parents, educationists, culturists, religious leaders, psychologists, and human rights advocates are divided; locally and globally, over the use of corporate punishment at home and in schools.

The debate has mainly hinged on two approaches; the deterrent approach and the social learning approach (Chimbamu, 2016).

Among proponents for the deterrent approach is President Mnangagwa, who recently beseeched parents and guardians to administer corporal punishment to discipline their children in line with cultural tenets to curtail deviance.

“There is a danger that drugs and substance abuse may destroy the younger generation. I urge parents not to spare the rod, and don’t worry about what the Americans do; they do what they want in America, and here in Zimbabwe, children should be disciplined,” he said.

He was addressing scores of congregants during the Roman Catholic Church’s centenary celebrations at St Joseph Mission in Kezi, Matabeleland South Province, recently.

President Mnangagwa raised two essential elements here – deterrence and cultural hinging.

It follows, therefore, that since legality is informed by both cultural and religious fundamentals, laws should remain in tandem with the dictates of the community whose behaviours they are meant to regulate.

Hence, advocates of corporal punishment draw inspiration from religious and cultural considerations.

The deterrent approach pivots on the fact that punishing wrongdoers or criminals will prevent, deter or frighten other would-be deviants.

On the other hand, the Social Learning Theory (Bandura, 1977), asserts that children who experience corporal violence will learn through conditioning, and observation what violence means, and are likely to become violent themselves.

The Judeo-Christian world condones corporal punishment and views it as the best way to discipline a child.

The most quoted verses in support of corporal punishment are Proverbs 13v24, and Proverbs 23v13-14, which respectively say: “He that spares the rod hates his son, and he that loves him disciplines him promptly”, and, “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish them with the rod, they will not die. Punish them with the rod and save them from death.” In this regard, therefore, corporal punishment is good for the child, because it is an expression of love, and not hatred in line with the aim to achieve set objectives, either in school or out of school.

The Constitution of Zimbabwe, under Section 241 of the Criminal Law Code, permits parents to administer corporal punishment on their minor children.

Also, Section 7 of the Children’s Act complements Section 241 of the Code, as it restates the permission of parents and guardians to administer rational punishment in certain terms. Clearing Mutero of killing her 12-year-old son, as referred to earlier on, Justice Mutevedzi ruled that the “death resulted from a permissible assault,” aimed at bringing a wayward child back to the fold in accordance with societal expectations.

“Taking evidence and the circumstances of this case in their totality, our conclusion is that the accused assaulted the deceased in the normal course of parental justice,” he said. “It was unfortunate that the bid for discipline resulted in the tragic consequences which have been aided by the deceased’s own violent behaviour in the community.”

It is every parent’s duty to enforce compliance in their minor children if society is to be rid of violent and other deviant behaviours.

No wonder why Members of the National Assembly were divided during the Second Reading of the Education Amendment Bill in 2019, because being products of a socio-cultural system that advocated corporal punishment at home and in school, they believe that success in life and school is related to use of force.

Bikita West Member of the National Assembly, Elias Musakwa (Zanu PF), highlighted that as products of corporal punishment, legislators should reconsider the ban on corporal punishment in schools, lest they be “judged harshly” by future generations.

Shurugwi North legislator, Ronald Nyathi (Zanu PF), concurred, saying teachers would be left with limited options to enforce discipline if corporal punishment were to be done away with.

In an interview with The Herald in 2019, the late academic and former Dean of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Zimbabwe, Professor Itai Muhwati, said Zimbabweans should avoid getting carried away by foreign and inherited terminologies, since they do not tally with African cultural philosophies.

“Firstly, the terminology is wrong. Our tragedy as Africa is that we have inherited terminology that in no way defines who we are, what we do and how we manage our lives. Foreign concepts and terminology, such as corporal punishment, misname and distort our philosophy of life; and practice that drives that philosophy, and in this case child development models,” Prof Muhwati said.

He averred that in Africa “mwana anorangwa”, and there are “avenues ekuranga mwana”. Corporal punishment, he said, is not an African concept, and, therefore, should not even be debated. Rather, he maintained: “We should be talking about kuranga mwana aita musikanzwa (disciplining a wayward child).

Prof Muhwati maintained that disciplining a child for deviance as part of “kuraira” cannot be equated to punishment. Punishment against who, on whose terms?

Legal expert, Dr Willard Tawonezvi Mugadza, also added his voice to the raging debate on corporal punishment.

“It is my view that disciplining children by canning them at home or school should be maintained, and it is not covered by the S v Willard (Willard Case). Of course the arguments will be whether canning or “beating” your child at home can amount to inhumane and degrading treatment,” he said.

Dr Mugadza argued that the Preamble of the Constitution of Zimbabwe states inter alia the need to: “Acknowledge the supremacy of Almighty God and imploring the guidance and support of Almighty God”, in governing the country. As such, the law functions complementary to the principles of the Bible, which says in Proverbs 13v24: “He who spares the rod hates his son, but, he who loves him, disciplines him promptly.”

Like most parents, educationists and other advocates, like President Mnangagwa, Dr Mugadza said corporal punishment should be espoused if children are to be brought up as accountable and honest citizens with the capacity to mould future generations.

The Constitution, he maintained, should be mindful of the positive impact of the moderate canning of the child, because in the end it is the parent who loses out if an ill-disciplined child is incarcerated or becomes a social misfit.The law, therefore, should protect the people, and another way of protecting society is to uphold corporal punishment at home and in schools.

The case against corporal punishment

From a Constitutional point of view, juveniles are not to be physically canned, flogged or endure any degrading act.

Section 68A of the Constitution outlaws corporal punishment in schools, with the law particularly debarring teachers from beating schoolchildren under whatever circumstances.

Basing on the constitutional grounds prohibiting any physical or psychological torture, or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, corporal punishment was outlawed in 2017 when the High Court ruled that Article 60 (2) (c) of the Education Act was unconstitutional.

As Dr Mugadza pointed out, this position was decided in the High Court, and confirmed by the Constitutional Court in the S v Willard (Willard case). Corporal punishment, the Constitutional Court concurred with the High Court, infringed Section 53 of the Constitution.

The position of the law on corporal punishment finds favour in some legislators, educationists, psychologists and human rights activists, who argue that there are other forms of discipline besides corporal punishment.

Some have gone to the extent of putting the blame on teachers, arguing that beating pupils does not make them pass.

Researchers assert that some approaches to corporal punishment have the effect of aggravating, instead of mitigating deviant behaviour. The deterrent approach, for example, is not meant for the deviant child, but other would-be offenders.

What is sometimes meant to discipline the child, may fail at the level of moderation, for in some cases emotions override intentions. Children have been seriously injured, disabled or lost lives due to corporal punishment gone wrong, either at home or in school.

Children, who are exposed to violence at home and at school tend to exhibit traits of violence, which will haunt them in future.

Since parents, guardians and teachers are their role models, minors are conditioned to accept violence as the norm.

Psychoanalysts say if a child is exposed to love, he/she learns to love, and if he/she is exposed to violence and hate, he/she learns likewise.

There is no proof that corporal punishment can change behaviour, especially in school, because the child, due to fear, may comply in a particular class, and once outside or in another class, the old habits will be shown. Once the child begins to associate school or particular teachers with violence, degradation or torture, the tendency is to become withdrawn due to fear, or avoid school altogether.

A conducive learning environment should prevail for pupils to perform to their greatest potential. They should feel safe and protected. They should be counseled for whatever poor behaviour they may exhibit, rewarded when they perform well, and be encouraged to always do better the next time. This also applies at home.

The classroom functions as a community, where everyone plays a part, with the teacher being the head; in control and commands respect. Free interaction should be the hallmark, so that every member is given a chance to air his or her ideas.

Regardless of their different backgrounds, learners are equal, as should be reflected through group work and emphasised throughout the learning process. All contributions should be respected to encourage participation and foster a sense of belonging.

Other forms of enforcing discipline should be sought, which are not degrading. If children know why they are punished, and are made aware that the punishment is for their own good, they will take it well, and regulate their behaviour accordingly.

The verdict

The jury may still be out, but it may be worthwhile to reflect on the grey areas around the ban on corporal punishment in schools as enshrined in the Constitution.

Even though 190 countries have signed and ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Somalia, South Sudan and the United States of America are still to sign.

It may be well that the countries have their reasons for not ratifying the convention, because each country has its own unique challenges, which can only be addressed from the country’s cultural and religious point of view.

In Zimbabwe, teachers raise the issue of large classes as an impediment to the creation of a conducive learning environment where the rod is spared.

Researchers have also pointed out that large classes are difficult to monitor; they simply do not favour other options of enforcement.

The issue of language comes in as well, especially in instances where the teacher may not be proficient in the local languages spoken in the area of deployment.

Pupils and teachers may become frustrated. If everything is done in consideration of the pupil, and the teacher’s concerns are not addressed, challenges are likely to abound.

The law, therefore, should be seen to be serving teachers, parents, guardians and minors with the ultimate goal of meeting set objectives as culturally, religiously and traditionally appropriate.

If society is to be protected against deviant behaviour, and for the greater good, then, corporal punishment as a disciplinary measure should go beyond sparing the rod.

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