HARARE - A High Court order outlawing corporal punishment in homes and schools spotlights the struggle between Zimbabwe’s deeply-rooted attachment to spanking children and new laws that criminalise the infliction of bodily pain as a form of punishment.
In most Zimbabwean homes, children have more respect for the belt, stick or the infamous slip-on sandal, commonly known locally as “pata pata”, than they do for parents, as these are commonly used to exorcise naughtiness and silliness in children.
Following High Court judge David Mangota’s order outlawing corporal punishment in schools and at home, most Zimbabwean parents have maintained they will still administer beatings as and when they see it fit.
The order followed an application filed by a parent and a child rights organisation, Justice for Children Trust, represented by prominent lawyer Tendai Biti, after a parent alleged that her daughter had been heavily assaulted by her school teacher at a Harare primary school.
The ban was in fact simply an interpretation of the “new” Constitution adopted in 2013 which in Section 53 outlaws the subjecting of any person — which includes children — to physical corporal punishment or psychological torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Corporal punishment on children was previously permitted under the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act.
The Constitution actually goes further to also outlaw such other non-corporal punishment alternatives in as far as the method of discipline is torturous, cruel, degrading and inhuman. The judgement also importantly highlights the fact that Section 53 of the Constitution absolutely outlaws corporal punishment in all environments which include at home, school and indeed in courts among others.
Harare-based parent, Patricia Mbofana, told the Daily News on Sunday that she will continue spanking her children, pointing out that she did not want them to grow into spoiled brats.
“Ini vana ndinorova shame, handidi kuzoita vana vakapusa, mwana wekuti anotadza kana kumhoresa vaenzi chaivo (I thoroughly beat my children because I do not want them to be spoiled to an extent that the child will not be able to greet visitors as they come).
“This ruling you talk about, was it read by a white judge? Surely, any black person understands that children need to be disciplined. If it takes a stick to do it, so be it.
“Let one of my children try this rights nonsense in my house, she will go and live with the good judge,” said Mbofana, an accountant and mother of two daughters, aged six and 13.
She also said her children’s teachers had her blessing to spank her children if they strayed at school.
“Look, when I send my child to school, I leave her in her teacher’s custody. I trust the teacher is a professional and will administer discipline professionally.
“Every time I go for Consultation Day, I tell the teacher to cane the silly out of the child. I guess at the end of the day, it all comes down to the teacher’s professionalism; although I feel there should be a standardised way of going about it,” Mbofana said.
In November 2013, the ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, in line with the new Constitution changed its policies and outlawed corporal punishment in schools.
Bulawayo-based psychologist Sinikiwe Khumalo pointed out that while she viewed Mangota’s order as “progressive”, it was unlikely going to be implemented.
“You first need to understand the Zimbabwean setting, the schools and home that these children live in. It is not like the children would drag the teachers, let alone parents to court over the beatings, so these are just newspaper stories really.
“In my view, there is absolutely nothing wrong with spanking your child occasionally when you feel they are straying.
“You just need to administer the beatings in a way that will help the child see their wrong-doing not so that they do not harbour feelings of rejection and resentment as they grow older,” the psychologist said.
But, relationship guru and social commentator, Lucia Gunguwo, widely-known as Mai Gunguwo, told the Daily News on Sunday that corporal punishment was not the solution to good parenting.
“What we need to understand is that there is a huge difference between disciplining and beating a child. In some instances, all you just need to do is establish what the child likes and take that away…
“You need to realise that it also matters how the child is disciplined, because some of these methods leave the children broken, giving society the problem of then dealing with a broken adult who will also go on to beat their offspring,” she said.
During his term on the bench, retired Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku took a swipe at lawyers advocating the abolition of corporal punishment, asking them to explain the impact of such an action on the behaviour of children in Zimbabwe.
This was after Biti and David Hofisi of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights cited international journals and foreign judgments in trying to push for the abolition of caning as judicial punishment as well as reprimand at home and schools.
“In countries that don’t allow corporal punishment, how do the children behave? Do you think it’ll be acceptable in Zimbabwe to have cases of children going to school with knives and guns in their jackets?
“Are those children better off than those that are subjected to corporal punishment? We hear some Zimbabwean teachers who have gone to teach in such countries have abandoned the profession because the children are uncontrollable,” Chidyausiku said then.
It seems those in the child rights sector are applauding the ruling while others in the general public and some sections of the education sector have slammed the outright ban as unsuitable for the Zimbabwean context.
Researchers who study corporal punishment say that parents of all ethnic groups, socioeconomic categories and education levels practice some form of physical punishment with their children.
Faith Ministries Church senior pastor Singi Munyeza quoted Proverbs 13:24, which states that “he who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly” and Proverbs 22:15, which says “foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of correction will drive it far from him”.
“Based on the above scriptures, it’s clear that there is room for corporal discipline from a biblical perspective.
“In my view, correctly applied corporal discipline is Godly and parents and teachers need to get training and teaching on such discipline to avoid excesses and abuse which comes with it,” he said.
He said there is a contracting view which calls for greater wisdom and grace in handling it — the use of peace to discipline children which has no negative consequences yet the only thing against it would be its effectiveness if not correctly applied.
Some researchers have suggested that the reason many black parents beat children is a legacy left by the brutality of colonialism.
The late Nelson Mandela — a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, politician, and philanthropist, who served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999 — once said: “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children”.
Some say it is rooted in fear, that if parents do not use force to demand obedience, someone else will.
Others say black Zimbabwean parents, in aggregate, are disproportionately lower-income, have less education and are more likely to follow a religion that implores them not to spare the rod for fear of spoiling the child – all factors that correlate with use of corporal punishment, regardless of race.
“Whatever the situation is, many may want to run away from it but children are going to be getting the belt for a very long time in Zimbabwe because of socialisation.Your parents used to beat you up and you turned out perfectly, so that is the only way you know how to discipline a child.
“The legalities and implementation debate will continue, but the fact is this culture is very much a part of being Zimbabwean,” psychologist Khumalo said.
Unicef said child discipline is primarily about teaching and guiding children about what is right and wrong, helping children to learn what is expected of them and how to control their own behaviour.
This is glaringly different from corporal punishment which includes hitting the child with the hand or with an object, kicking, shaking, or throwing the child, pinching, burning and forcing a child to take excessive physical exercise.
“Away from the laws, our society should recognise that children’s mental and physical maturity limitations require us as adults to nurture, protect and mentor them in a manner that guides them into becoming responsible citizens who abhor violence in any form, and respect others’ human rights rather than fear them,” Unicef said in a report titled ‘Ban on corporal punishment opens new era for children.’
“This cannot be achieved by instilling a culture in children that interpersonal violence is an appropriate response to conflict or unwanted behaviour and that it is acceptable for those in authority to be violent towards the weak to force a particular line of behaviour or action. In children, such an aggressive line of thinking can easily be turned on to other children resulting in serious problems of bullying, and as they grow into adulthood, the proliferation of use of violence mainly in politics and domestic relationships.”