School faces lawsuit over corporal punishment

Fidelis Munyoro Chief Court Reporter—
A lawsuit has been filed against a local primary school in Harare for allegedly grievously assaulting a Grade One pupil in class following the parents’ failure to mark her homework. According to the case statement, the six-year-old pupil (name withheld for legal reasons), was spanked by her teacher with a thick rubber pipe because her mother had not marked and signed the homework she had done.

The parent of the pupil failed to sign her reading book as she was attending to her own mother who had been admitted to a local hospital due to diabetes.

In the case filed at the High Court last week, the child’s parent and Justice for Children Trust listed the school head, Minister of Primary and Secondary Education Dr Lazarus Dokora and Cde Emmerson Mnangagwa who oversees the Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs ministry as respondents.

They are seeking an order declaring corporal punishment administered in schools and by parents in the homes or anyone else unconstitutional. In her affidavit, the mother states that after the beating, her child suffered serious bruises.

“She had red deep bruises on her back and she could hardly sleep properly,” she says. “The following Monday, my child was so traumatised that she refused to go to school. She was crying that morning and I had to force her to go to school.”

After the incident, the mother who is being represented by her lawyer Mr Tendai Biti, says she took pictures of the injuries and posted them on the WhatsApp group of parents with children in the same class for the other parents to observe.

It turned out that several children had been assaulted. Parents on that group disclosed the assaults their children had also endured at the hands of the same teacher. “I believe that no one, whether a school, teacher or parent at home, should inflict corporal punishment on children,” says the victim’s mother.

“I believe that corporal punishment is violence against children and I do not believe that children should be subjected to any form of violence. I believe that corporal punishment is a physical abuse of children. It causes serious and everlasting harm and in some cases death.”

The victim’s mother also states that corporal punishment is dangerous in that it is administered indiscriminately without any measure of control over the teachers in practice.

“Corporal punishment has been so central in the administering of education in this country such that it is considered normal,” she says.

“It surely cannot be normal for a teacher to abuse any child, let alone a six-year-old child and more so, for things that the child does not control. In my case, my child was beaten up as a result of my own failure to mark her homework for reasons that I could not control.”

She further states that other children were beaten up for failing mathematics and their spellings, things that they cannot control. “Academic weakness surely cannot be a case of ill-discipline,” she argues. “This illustrates the indiscriminate nature of the assault.”

It is also her contention that corporal punishment at schools and home amounts to breach of various sections of the Constitutions, which defines the rights of children.

Among the cited sections is section 81(1) (e) of the Constitution that provides that every child has the right to be protected from economic and sexual exploitation, from child labour and from maltreatment, neglect or any form of abuse.

The Constitution also makes it clear under Section 53 that no person may be subjected to physical or psychological torture or cruel inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

To bolster her case, the victim’s mother also made reference to numerous universal and human rights treaties that prevent torture and proscribe torture and degrading punishment.

Justice for Children Trust also filed its supporting affidavit.

“Corporal punishment, far from teaching children how to behave, actually leads to the opposite,” says JCT chief executive Mr Caleb Mutandwa in his founding affidavit.

“It also results in victims resorting to bullying, lying, cheating, school behaviour problems and involvement in crime as a child and young adult. It also results in damage to parent-child relationship.”

The law authorises “moderate corporal punishment” of children by parents, guardians and school teachers. Of the 193 UN member states, Zimbabwe is one of only 22 States where corporal punishment is not fully prohibited in any setting.

In 2014, a landmark High Court judgment declared judicial corporal punishment unconstitutional and prohibited its use.

However, in June last year, the Constitutional Court provisionally suspended the High Court order and ruled that while the case awaited hearing, magistrates could resume corporal punishment on juvenile offenders.

Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku has since called for opposing views before making a final determination. Respondents are yet to respond to the constitutional application.

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