From left to right - Badra Withanage, Dr.Miyuru Prasad, Dr. Padma Gunaratne, Prof.Asvini D Fernando and Emeritus Prof. Harendra de Silva
- If you take one section of a school, you have some classes with strict teachers that use fear conditioning to control a classroom whereas you have some classes that achieve the same without the threat of using punishments
- Efforts have been taken to constantly reduce the size of a classroom and create a student-centred environment. However, it is the lack of training and knowledge of principals and teachers that have acted as obstacles
Sri Lanka has been continuously accused of posing a blind eye to the rising number of physical abuse cases of children. Even though Sri Lanka has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child as far back in 1991, it seems that society’s justification of corporal punishment still reigns. Within this context, the Sri Lanka Medical Association held its 5th Media Seminar themed “Protect Child Rights - Stop Physical Abuse”.
The Journey of the Voice against Corporal Punishment
The voice against corporal punishment began more than 100 years ago with the enactment of the Education Ordinance of 1939. According to Emeritus Professor Harendra de Silva, it is during the discussion of this ordinance that D.S. Senanayake and Ponnambalam Ramanadan voiced against corporal punishment which was allowed in schools back then. Therefore, it is factually incorrect to give credit to the international community for pointing out structural problems that enable physical abuse of children. However, even after ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991, cases of physical abuse of children only surged. This is when several international forces including the UNHRC had to step in to propose solutions to one that direly
The main obstacle behind eradicating physical child abuse is the traditional belief that physical punishments should be allowed by teachers. It is a wide-held belief that physical punishment is a dire necessity to control classrooms. Dr. Miyuru Prasad, senior lecturer and consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Kelaniya, responded to this myth:
“If you take one section of a school, you have some classes with strict teachers that use fear conditioning to control a classroom whereas you have some classes that achieve the same without the threat of using punishments,” he said.
Another myth is that physical punishment has existed in this country for years, and is the secret potion behind moulding good citizens. Dr. Miyuru Prasad countered it stating:
“The person behind bars in prison is also a product of this ancient practice…If the usage of physical force is an efficient technique, other countries should be learning from our system and adapting it in their own systems. However, this is not the case.”
Why does it continue in Sri Lanka?
There are several reasons why physical violence against children still exists in this country. The foremost problem is the vicious cycle of corporal punishment where parents believe that since they were subjected to corporal punishment in their childhood, it should be used against their children as well.
Corporal punishment is continued in schools despite the continuous efforts made for more than two decades to eradicate it.
Director of Education, Ministry of Education, Mrs. Badra Withanage conceded that it is the lack of knowledge within school officials that have hindered the proposed efforts.
“Efforts have been taken to constantly reduce the size of a classroom and create a student-centred environment. However, it is the lack of training and knowledge of principals and teachers that have acted as obstacles,” she said.
Apart from home and school, cases of physical violence against children have been reported in religious institutions and daycare centres as well. Further investigation into the practices of these institutions is necessary for the well-being of children in this country.
What can be done about it?
Professor Asvini Fernando, Associate Professor in Paediatrics at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Kelaniya, highlighted the importance of continuously educating children on what needs to be done in instances where adults make them uncomfortable.
Mrs. Badra Withanage conceded that apart from a counselling unit that there is no mainstream platform to address the use of physical force against children nor an effective system to educate teachers. Hence, it is of utmost importance for teachers to go through a training programme that effectively communicates that the usage of physical punishments is not necessary.
Dr. Miyuru Prasad asked everyone including parents and teachers to have an interest to actively search for effective techniques to positively change a child’s behaviour instead of resorting to physical means.