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African Human Rights Law Journal

On-line version ISSN 1609-073X

Afr. hum. rights law j. vol.8 n.1 Pretoria  2008

 

ARTICLES

 

Corporal punishment in public schools: A call for legal reform

 

 

Nicole O'Neal

JD Candidate 2008, Florida International University College of Law, USA

 

 


SUMMARY

The use of corporal punishment within the public educational system of African states is unlawful, detrimental to the health and welfare of the children, and an unnecessary impediment to educational excellence in the region. Public school corporal punishment violates several international and regional human rights treaties, customary international law, and may breach jus cogens norms prohibiting torture and recognising a fundamental right to respect for human dignity. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights expressly condemn all forms of corporal punishment. In addition, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child can also be interpreted to prohibit the practice of public school corporal punishment. Most African states have ratified these international and regional human rights instruments; therefore, laws authorising this practice should be repealed and alternative methods should be encouraged through legal reform. This article explains how laws authorising public school corporal punishment breach human rights law, and calls for law reform in African states. In addition to the repeal of such laws, this article suggests legislation that could be implemented domestically to condemn and prohibit this practice.


 

 

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* BA (Salem College); nonea001@fiu.edu. Many thanks to Jeanelle Ferrill, Dr Susan Bitensky, Prof Andrea Smith, Prof Charles Pouncy and Prof Heather Hughes.
1 Interview with William Archer, father of Georgina Archer, in Tema, Ghana (10 June 2006); interview with Charles Archer, attorney for Georgina Archer, the law offices of Charles Archer in Tema and Accra, Ghana (10 & 12 June 2006 respectively). Mr Archer and Charles Archer provided most of the facts from the case discussed in this section; the remaining facts are derived from the author's personal observations of the criminal proceedings that took place on 10 June 2006.
2 Court case D8/30/06. The Tema Circuit Court 'A' had not rendered a decision at the time this article was written.
3 See also United Nations study on violence against children, 61st session, UN Doc A/61/299 (2006) (a comprehensive report on the implementation of corporal punishment against children,         [ Links ] including within educational settings).
4 CP Cohen 'Freedom from corporal punishment: One of the human rights of children' (1984) 2 New York Law School Human Rights Annual 1;         [ Links ] MA Straus Beating the devil out of them: Corporal punishment in American families and its effects on children (2001) 4;         [ Links ] Canadian Foundation for Children, Youth and the Law v Attorney-General in Right of Canada [2004] SCR 76 http://www.canlii.org/en/ca/scc/doc/2004/2004scc4/2004scc4.html (accessed 31 March 2008).         [ Links ]
5 Amnesty International Combating torture: A manual for action http://www.amnesty.org/resources/pdf/combating_torture/sections/appendix15.pdf (accessed 15 November 2007);         [ Links ] see 'A trauma-organised society? Looking at the numbers http://www.sanctuaryweb.com/Documents/Downloads/Trauma-organized%20society%20Bearing%20Witness.pdf (accessed 15 November 2007).         [ Links ]
6 n 3 above, paras 24-37; 'Is corporal punishment an effective means of discipline?' http://www.apa.org/releases/spanking.html (accessed 27 October 2007);         [ Links ] 'Research: effects of corporal punishment' http://www.stophitting.com/disathome/effectsOfCP.php (accessed 27 October 2007);         [ Links ] ChildAdvocate.org, http://www.childadvocate.org/1a_arguments.htm (accessed 27 October 2007);         [ Links ] 'A trauma-organisedsociety?' (n 5 above);' SH Bitensky Corporal punishment of children: A human rights violation (2006) 192.         [ Links ]
7 Art 18(3) International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, GA Res 2200A (XXI), UN Doc A/6316 (16 December 1966); art 13 International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, GA Res 2200A (XXI), UN Doc A/6316 (16 December 1966); art 29(1) United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, 28 ILM 1448, 1577 UNTS 3 (20 November 1989).
8 The scope of this article addresses every child attending public or state-sponsored educational institutions that are prior to college, undergraduate, or professional studies (ie grade schools). The age and gender of the child are irrelevant to the arguments being asserted. The author recognises that public school corporal punishment breaches the human rights obligations of all nations; however, the scope of this discussion will be limited to African nations that continue the practice. Ending legalised violence against children: Global Report 2007 http://www.crin.org/docs/GI_report_07.pdf (accessed 19 October 2007) (providing a list of African countries that continue the practice of public school corporal punishment).         [ Links ] This article will not condemn corporal punishment within all settings. Nonetheless, the author recognises that corporal punishment within the home as well as judicial and military settings may also violate international law. See W O'Neill A humanitarian practitioner's guide to international human rights law http://www.ciaonet.org/wps/watson/onw01.pdf (accessed 5 December 2007);         [ Links ] Guidelines to EU policy towards third countries on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment http://ec.europa.eu/external_relations/human_rights/torture/guideline_en.htm (accessed 24 December 2007);         [ Links ] 'Special Rapporteur on Torture concludes visit to Togo, HR/07/63' http://www.unhchr.ch/huricane/huricane.nsf/view01/5FD294437 C596102C12572C1004E7457?opendocument (accessed 31 January 2008);         [ Links ] 'In war on terror, many countries violating human rights standards, Third Committee told', GA/ SHC/3830 http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2005/gashc3830.doc.htm (accessed 31 January 2008);         [ Links ] General Comment of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, 42nd session para 12, UN Doc CRC/C/GC/8 (2006). The historical roots of corporal punishment within African societies and educational systems as well as the reasons for the continuation of the practice would require an exhaustive analysis that is not within the scope of this article. The purpose of this article is to explain the legal grounds and claims for prohibiting public school corporal punishment. The author realises that establishing a legal standard is only one step towards solving the problem. The issue of implementation raises context and culture-specific issues that are beyond the article.
9Ending legalised violence against children (n 8 above).
10 Arts 5 & 7 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, GA Res 217 (III), UN Doc A/810 (10 December 1948); arts 28 & 37(a) CRC; arts 7, 10, 24(1) & 26 CCPR; arts 1, 2 & 16 United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, GA Res 39/46, 39 UN GAOR Supp (No 16) (1984); art 5 African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, OAU Doc CAB/LEG/67/3/Rev 5 (1981); art 16 African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, OAU Doc CAB/ LEG/24.9/49 (1990).
11 Status of Ratifications of the Principal International Human Rights Treaties http://www.unhchr.ch/pdf/report.pdf (accessed 18 October 2007);         [ Links ] List of Countries Which Have Signed, Ratified/Acceded to the African Union Convention on African Charter on Human and People's Rights, http://www.achpr.org/english/ratifications/ratification_charter_en.pdf (accessed 18 October 2007);         [ Links ] List of Countries Which Have Signed, Ratified/Acceded to the African Union Convention on African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, http://www.achpr.org/english/ratifications/ratification_ child_en.pdf (accessed 18 October 2007).         [ Links ]
12 Art 1 CRC.
13 n 15 above, art 43 paras 1-3; see Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Committee on the Rights of the Child-Members http://www.ohchr.org/english/bodies/crc/members.htm (accessed 27 January 2007);         [ Links ] see CP Cohen 'A guide to linguistic interpretation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child: Articles 1, 41 and 45' in CP Cohen & HA Davidson (eds) Children's rights in America: UN Convention on the Rights of the Child compared with United States law (1990) 33;         [ Links ] see Y Iwasawa 'The domestic impact of international human rights standards: The Japanese experience' in P Alston & J Crawford (eds) The future of human rights treaty monitoring (2000) 245 258-59.         [ Links ]
14 Art 43 CRC.
15 Art 37(a) CRC.
16 Art 19(1) CRC (my emphasis).
17 Report of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child on the Seventh Session, UN Doc CRC/C/34, Annex IV 63 (November 1994); see also Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child: Ethiopia, 26th session, paras 38-39, 47, UN Doc CRC/C/15Add 144 (2001); and Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child: Mozambique, 29th session, paras 38-39, UN Doc CRC/C/Add 172 (2002).
18 CRC Committee General Comment No 8, 42nd session paras 32-33, UN Doc CRC/C/ GC/8 (2006); see also Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child: Kenya, 28th session para 64, UN Doc CRC/C/15/Add 160 (2001); Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child: United Republic of Tanzania, 27th session para 67, UN Doc CRC/C/15/Add. 156 (2001).
19 General Comment No 8 (n 18 above).
20 n 18 above, para. 8.
21 Art 28(2) CRC.
22 CRC Committee General Comment No 1, 26th session para 8, UN Doc CRC/ GC/2001/1 (2001); SH Bitensky 'Educating the child for a productive life: Articles 28 and 29' in Cohen & Davidson (n 13 above) 167 1 74.
23 Art 29(1) CRC.
24 CRC Committee General Comment No 1 (n 22 above).
25 n 22 above, para 8; see eg, Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child: Andorra, 29th session paras 39-40, UN Doc CRC/C/15/Add 176 (2002);         [ Links ] see also Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child: Chile, 29th session paras 31-32, UN Doc CRC/C/15/Add. 173 (2002);         [ Links ] see also Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child: Cape Verde, 28th session paras 35-36, UN Doc CRC/C/15/Add. 168 (2001).         [ Links ]
26 Human Rights Committee General Comment No 20, 1138 mtg para 5 (1992) http://www.refugeelawreader.org/316/General_Comments_of_ the_Human_Rights_Committee_No._20.pdf (accessed 31 January 2007).         [ Links ] Art 7 of CCPR states: 'No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
27 Human Rights Committee General Comment No 28, para 13, UN Doc CCPR/C/21/ Rev 1/Add 10 (2000).         [ Links ]
28 Human Rights Committee General Comment No 20 (n 26 above) para 13.
29 Art 9(1) CCPR.
30 Art 24 CCPR.
31 SH Bitensky 'Spare the rod, embrace our humanity: Toward a new legal regime prohibiting corporal punishment of children' (1998) 31 University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform 412.         [ Links ]
32 Art 1 Universal Declaration (my emphasis).
33 Art 2 Universal Declaration: 'Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration.'
34 Art 5 Universal Declaration (my emphasis).
35 P Sieghart The international law of human rights (1983) 53;         [ Links ] O Schachter 'International law in theory and practice' in HJ Steiner & P Alston International human rights in context: Law, politics and morals (2000) 226 229;         [ Links ] see PG Lauren The evolution of international human rights visions seen (2003) 232;         [ Links ] Committee on the Enforcement of Human Rights Law, International Law Association, Final Report on the Status of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in National and International Law in RB Lillich & H Hannum International human rights: Problems of law, policy and practice (1995) 166 166;         [ Links ] MG Johnson 'A Magna Carta for mankind: Writing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights' in MG Johnson & J Symonides Universal Declaration of Human Rights: A history of its creation and implementation 1948-1998 (1998) 19 67.         [ Links ] The principle of international law prohibiting torture is generally accepted as jus cogens, a mandatory norm accepted and recognised by the international community and from which no derogation is permitted. See United Nations General Assembly Official Records, 50th session para 177 A/50/44/ (1995); United Nations General Assembly Official Records, 51st session para 65(i) A/51/44 (1996); see JH Burgers & H Danelius The United Nations Convention Against Torture: A handbook on the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1988) 12;         [ Links ] H Charlesworth & C Chinkin 'The gender of jus cogens' in Steiner & Alston (above) 173-74.
36 State v Pickering [2001] AILR 51 http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/Journals/AILR/2001/51.html (referring to art 5 of the Universal Declaration and art 7 of CCPR).
37 Report of the Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on the Question of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, para 48, A/57/173 (2 July 2002).
38 n 37 above, para 51.
39 United Nations Guidelines for the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency (Riyadh Guidelines) GA Res 45/112 para 21(h) (1990).
40 n 37 above.
41 n 37 above, para 53.
42 Art 1 CAT.
43 Former Rapporteur for and member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, Marta Santos Pais, has stated that it is a mistake to identify torture with 'extremely serious and massive cases' since it may 'cover a wide degree of situations', even those which cause 'unperceivable mental suffering' or those involving 'a disciplinary measure which may be degrading or inhuman'. Bitensky (n 31 above) 353 396-97 (citing Address at the International Seminar on Worldwide Strategies and Progress Towards Ending All Physical Punishment of Children (Dublin, Ireland, 22 August 1996) (transcript on file with University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform).
44 Art 16(1) CAT.
45 NS Rodley 'Foreword' in G van Bueren (ed) Childhood abused: Protecting children against torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment (1998) xv.         [ Links ]
46 Report of the Committee Against Torture, UN GAOR, 50th session Supp 44 paras 169 & 177, UN Doc A/50/44 (1995);         [ Links ] see eg Commission on Human Rights Resolution 2002/38 para 5, 50th mtg. pmbl UN Doc E/CN 4/Res/ 2002/38 (2002); Commission on Human Rights Resolution 2001/62 para 5, 77th mtg pmbl UN Doc E/CN 4/Res 2001/62 (2001); Commission on Human Rights Resolution 2000/43 para 3, 60th mtg pmbl UN Doc E/CN 4/Res /2000/43 (2000); Commission on Human Rights Resolution 1999/32 para 3, 55th mtg pmbl UN Doc E/CN 4/Res /1999/32 (1999).
47 Report of the Special Rapporteur, Mr Nigel S Rodley, submitted to Commission on Human Rights, Concerning the Question of the Human Rights of All Persons Subjected to Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, in Particular: Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, 52nd session, para 10, UN Doc E/CN4/1996/35 (1996).
48 Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 19 of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, 21st session para 74(d), A/54/44 (17 November 1998).
49 Art 2(1) CAT.
50 Report of the Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on the Question of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, para 53, UN Doc A/57/173 (2002).         [ Links ] ('[T]he Special Rapporteur believes that any form of corporal punishment of children is contrary to the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of punishment. He therefore calls upon states to take adequate measures, in particular legal and educational ones, to ensure that the right to physical and mental integrity of children is well protected in the public and in the private spheres.')
51 See generally United Nations General Assembly Official Records, 50th session A/50/44/ (1995); see generally United Nations General Assembly Official Records, 51st session A/51/44 (1996).
52 Art 5(1) African Charter.
53 As above.
54 Art 18(3) African Charter.
55 Zambia's initial state report on the implementation of the African Charter, http://www.achpr.org/english/state_reports/40_Zambia%20initial%20report_Eng.pdf (accessed 11 March 2007); see The African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights: Principles and Guidelines on the Rights to a Fair Trial and Legal Assistance in Africa http://www.achpr.org/english/declarations/Guidelines_Trial_en.html (accessed 11 March 2007); see n 7 above and accompanying text.
56 Art 16 African Children's Charter.
57 Art 11 African Children's Charter.
58 Art 45 African Charter.
59 Art 5 African Charter. List of Countries Which Have Signed, Ratified/Acceded to the African Union Convention on African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (n 11 above).
60 (2003) AHRLR 153 (ACHPR 2003).
61 n 60 above, para 36.
62 As above.
63 Discussed below.
64 n 60 above, para 42.
65 n 60 above, para 44.
66 Art 8(2)(b) of the Namibian Constitution provides that 'no persons shall be subject to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment'. T Maluwa International law in post-colonial Africa (2000) 47.
67 [1992] LRC (Const) 515.
68 As above. In S v Williams & Others, the Constitutional Court of South Africa held that juvenile whipping was unlawful and unconstitutional under secs 10 and 11(2) of the new Constitution of the Republic of South Africa ([1995] 2 LRC 103). See also A Lester 'The relevance of international human rights norms' (1996) 7 Developing Human Rights Jurisprudence 23 42.
69 Maluwa (n 66 above).
70 As above.
71Christian Education South Africa v Minister of Education 1999 2 SA 83 (CC).
72 As above.
73 As above.
74 As above. The Court cited CCPR several times throughout the opinion.
75 European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms art 3, 213 UNTS 221 (1953).
76 Assenov & Others v Bulgaria, 96 Eur Ct HR 3264 3288 (1998).
77 Costello-Roberts v The United Kingdom, 247 Eur Ct HR 47, 59-60 (1993).
78 Costello-Roberts (n 77 above) 52-53.
79 Costello-Roberts (n 77 above) 59-60.
80 Costello-Roberts (n 77 above).
81 Warwick v United Kingdom App No 947/81, 60 Eur Comm'n HR Dec & Rep 16-17 (1986).
82 As above.
83 n 81 above, 17.
84 As above.
85 Y v United Kingdom, App No 14229/88, 17 Eur HR Rep (Ser A) 238, 239-43 (1991) (Commission report).
86 n 85 above, 239 241-43.
87 Tyrer v United Kingdom 26 Eur Ct HR (Ser. A) (1978), 2 EHRR, 1 para 30 (1979-80).
88 As above.
89 See generally U Kilkelly The child and the European Convention on Human Rights (1999) 160-161.
90 Eg State v Pickering (n 36 above); S v Vries (1996) 12 BCLR 1666.
91 2001 3 SA 382 (CC).
92 'Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.' Constitution Act 1982, being Schedule B to the Canada Act 1982, ch 11 (UK) http://www.canlii.org/en/ca/const/const1982.html#sec7 (accessed 31 January 2007).
93 'Everyone has the right not to be subjected to any cruel and unusual treatment or punishment.' Constitution Act 1982 (n 92 above).
94 'Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.' Constitution Act 1982 (n 92 above).
95Canadian Foundation for Children, Youth and the Law v Attorney-General in Right of Canada (n 4 above).
96 As above.
97 As above. However, it must be noted that Justice Binnie dissented in part, stating: 'By denying children the protection of the criminal law against the infliction of physical force that would be criminal assault if used against an adult, sec 43 of the Criminal Code infringes children's equality rights guaranteed by sec 15(1) of the Charter. To deny protection against physical force to children at the hands of their parents and teachers is not only disrespectful of a child's dignity but turns the child, for the purpose of the Criminal Code, into a second class citizen.' Justices Arbour and Deschamps also dissented.
98 'Top court upholds spanking law' http://www.corpun.com/cad00401.htm#teachers (accessed 28 October 2007). International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: Fifth Report of Canada http://www.pch.gc.ca/progs/pdp-hrp/docs/flfth_iccpr/ fifth_e.pdf (accessed 28 October 2007).
99 CRC General Comment (n 18 above) para 2; see United Nations Study on Violence Against Children, 61st session UN Doc A/61/299 (2006).
100 As above.
101 n 18 above, para 11.
102 UNICEF 'Call to ban corporal punishment wraps up South Africa meeting on violence' http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/media_27721.html (accessed 13 March 2007).
103 As above.

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