Corporal punishment is illegal in Uganda but the practice remains rampant in most schools. Various surveys have found that most educators resort to caning children as a corrective measure, a method which, reports indicate, can have devastating effect on the victims. Some children have suffered injuries, including fatalities and others have been maimed for life.
In 2013, this newspaper reported a case where a 13-year-old pupil in Rakai District died after being beaten by a teacher for allegedly stealing Shs3,000. In a related case in the same year, a nine-year-old Primary Three pupil in Iganga District died after allegedly receiving a lash from a classmate under the instruction of the teacher. Another P4 pupil in a primary school in Mbale had her eye removed by doctors following a classroom ‘punishment’ by a teacher.
These examples represent a bigger national problem that requires the attention of the authorities, notably the Education ministry and child rights organisation. That is why the move by Arua District to end caning in schools is a welcome development. On Friday, this newspaper reported that the African Network for the Prevention and Protection against Child Abuse and Neglect (ANPPCAN) in conjunction with teachers has launched a campaign aimed at eliminating corporal punishment from schools in Arua District.
According to ANPPCAN programme officer, Mr Geoffrey Dramani, corporal punishment drives away pupils from schools. This is compounded by the belief that children can only learn through caning. In fact, an ANPPCAN survey indicates that many parents support corporal punishment in schools. The 2011 report shows that in some schools, Parent Teacher Associations and School Management Committees assented to corporal punishment, ‘as long as the strokes don’t exceed two’.
A related study by ANPPCAN and Save the Children shows that Uganda lags behind in addressing corporal punishment – at 84 per cent, compared to Ethiopia at 68 per cent, Tanzania at 72 per cent, Rwanda at 48 per cent and Somalia at 76 per cent. This is a clear indication that we have a lot to do. Therefore, the drive to end caning in schools that was launched in Arua last week is a key step forward.
It is crucial that in implementing this drive, alternative forms of discipline is emphasised. As Dramani rightly noted, pupils deserve better alternatives such as counselling and discussion when an offence is committed because they can only excel in a peaceful learning environment.