Care for the child, don’t hurt

THE senseless death of Mohamad Thaqif Amin Mohd Gaddafi, the 11-year-old religious school pupil, who was corporally punished by his warden, will not be accepted by Malaysians in general.

Just a day earlier the case caught the attention of Johor Permaisuri Raja Zarith Sofiah Sultan Idris, who had proactively ordered all children from the school who had been punished by the warden to be sent for a medical examination.

The death of Mohamad Thaqif brings to mind the death of yet another religious school pupil in 2012. Then, the child was accused of taking RM1 and the hostel warden had beaten the child to death.

Malaysians are a forgetful lot. After some tongue clucking and coffee shop conversations on the demise of the child, whose legs had been amputated due to the intensity of the beatings, the tragedy will slowly but surely be forgotten and allowed to be a national statistic, if at all.

It is difficult to fathom that in the first quarter of the 2017 school year no less than four serious cases of physical punishment of schoolchildren had been reported in the national media.

This albeit the School Discipline Rules and Regulations being in place. The rules clearly state who, when and how corporal punishment can be administered on schoolchildren.

Yes, the rules are there for all to see. The problem is many in authority, both as educational administrators and teachers, do not understand what comprises corporal punishment.

The Malay word "rotan", as used generally in the school rules does not capture the spectrum of acts which encompasses corporal punishment of schoolchildren.

For a proper understanding of corporal punishment the definition of the term as propounded by the Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2006, is quoted here as it is very inclusive:

"... any punishment in which physical force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort however light. Most involve hitting children with an implement; whip, stick, belt, shoe, wooden spoon, etc but it can also involve, for example, kicking, shaking or throwing children, scratching, pinching, biting, pulling hair or boxing ears, forcing to stay in uncomfortable positions, burning, scalding or forced ingestion of foreign matter. In addition there are other nonphysical forms of punishment which are also cruel and degrading and thus incompatible with convention. This includes, for example punishment which belittles, humiliates, denigrates, scapegoats, threatens, scares or ridicules the child."

Until there is a thorough understanding of the constructs of this definition by teachers, educational authorities, caregivers and parents, Malaysian children will continue suffering physical punishment at the hands of overzealous disciplinarians.

It is a sad commentary that although 52 countries have banned corporal punishment in schools and many of them also at home, Malaysia does not count among one of them. Many of these countries are much less developed than Malaysia. However, these countries know that as custodians of children's hopes and aspirations, adults have to accept responsibility for creating an environment that will help children thrive without being beaten and shouted at.

Yes, Malaysians are living in denial that children in schools are not subject to physical and verbal abuse.

Malaysians, including top leaders and politicians, give various reasons for insisting on corporal punishment of children. The usual and clichéd saying used is, "Spare the rod and spoil the child" or that they had been punished physically as children and they turned up as good adults.

Yet others might quote that they are compelled by religion to punish the child. Thus the general invisibility of corporal punishment is due to the fact that it is so common in Malaysia.

The world is revisiting the effectiveness of corporal punishment as a disciplinary tool. Studies conducted by authorities and this writer show beyond doubt that corporal punishment is ineffective as a disciplinary tool. Children are compelled to obey instructions due to the fear of pain, nothing more.

Corporal punishment of children is always degrading and has no place in the school or even homes. Children suffer from humiliation on being punished by caregivers, more so if that punishment is meted publicly. The punished child is demotivated, embarrassed and angry.

This anger is usually welled up, and potentially dangerous to other children. Physical punishment of schoolchildren as in the case of Mohamad Thaqif leads to the loss of limbs and other faculties.

Every Malaysian child and adult has some anecdote to tell of "wild" teachers at school, or how they had been corporally punished. Others would have witnessed their friends or classmates being beaten by teachers or wardens and would have suffered the happenings in silence.

Corporal punishment of schoolchildren in particular has to stop. Every Malaysian has the responsibility, nay the right to insist on safer schools. We, as a country have to declare zero tolerance for corporal punishment in our schools, and to end adult violence against children, whether acceptable as tradition or disguised as discipline.

Development of a country is not only the building and infrastructure. A country that does not love its children and give them the respect they deserve is definitely lagging. Malaysia sadly is, in this aspect.

We have to realise that children are but smaller versions of adults. They have feelings and suffer the same emotions. No one has the right to punish children physically or verbally and this must be understood. There are no two ways about this.

Barbaric practices like corporal punishment have to be taken out of the schools system and from the home front ideally. As more and more countries are banning the practice of corporal punishment in schools and other settings, Malaysia cannot be indifferent and allow generation after generation of schoolchildren to suffer in silence.

Are we going to wait for another story of an unfortunate school child losing his or her limbs, eyesight or life due to corporal punishment? Advocacy groups have to demand for a total ban on the practice of physical punishment of the future citizens of the country.

The death of Saiful Syazani Saiful Sopfidee and Mohamad Thaqif Amin Mohd Gaddafi who had written touchingly in his dairy thus, "Please open my parents' heart to allow me to transfer to another school", should not be left to fate, misadventure or a loving smack going wrong. It must sound the beginning of the end to corporal punishment in Malaysian schools.

Dr V. G. Perumal is an educationist. Comments: