BELIZE: Plans to abolish corporal punishment in schools

The Belize government is planning to abolish corporal punishment in schools.

The Ministry of Education has drafted a revision of the Education Act, and has held countrywide consultations to gauge support for the ban.

The National Organization for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (NOPCAN) has welcomed the move, urging full legal reform without further delay, and active implementation of the prohibition to ensure that all children and students are protected.

NOPCAN’s Executive Director, Mr Denbigh Yorke, said: “Beating children is more about our use, or abuse, of power to control them, and is usually done out of frustration and ignorance. We have come to believe, conveniently, that positive methods don’t work and that they are a waste of time. This is further reinforced by our fear of what we see happening around us and the notion that it’s because we are not licking children enough that things are falling apart. What utter foolishness. The result of such presumption is a permeation of violence throughout our society. Corporal punishment is an example of a law which should be immediately outlawed.”

NOPCAN is recommending amendments to the revision of the Act to strengthen its compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It recommends that the Ministry adopt a rights-based approach, and a whole school approach, to ensure that every school in Belize is child-friendly and where everyone is protected from all forms of violence. NOPCAN is offering to collaborate with the Ministry, the Teachers’ Union, and with schools to continue its programme of training in Positive Child Discipline – Alternatives to Corporal Punishment.

Mr Yorke, has highlighted the following arguments in support of a ban:

  • Nearly twenty years ago, Belize was justifiably proud to be the fifth country in the world to ratify, and help bring into force, the CRC
  • In 1999, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, in their concluding observations on Belize’s first state report, expressed their “grave concern that corporal punishment is still widely practised within the State party and that domestic legislation does not prohibit its use within schools, the family, the juvenile justice and alternative care systems and generally within the society.”
  • The Ministry’s attempt in 1999 to build restrictions and safeguards into the Education Rules to limit indiscriminate corporal punishment of children has failed. Those limits have been widely ignored by principals and teachers, neither monitored nor enforced by school managers or the Ministry of Education, in a continuing culture of impunity.
  • In 2005, the Committee on the Rights of the Child reiterated “its deep concern that corporal punishment is still frequently practised in the family, in schools and in other institutions, that the domestic legislation does not prohibit the use of corporal punishment and that the provisions of the Criminal Code and the Education Act legitimise the use of it.”
  • There are more and more teachers who complete their professional teacher education qualifications based on no corporal punishment, and more and more schools and teachers in Belize who already do not use corporal punishment, and more and more parents who do not wish others to hit their children.
  • Belize is a member of the Organization of American States (OAS). In March 2009 the Inter-American Court of Human Rights confirmed the human rights obligations of Member States of the OAS to prohibit and eliminate all corporal punishment of children, reaffirming that the protection of children against corporal punishment begins with the adoption of a legal provision banning the use of corporal punishment, but its effective implementation compels the state to ensure appropriate mechanisms, programmes and policies to support families in learning and using positive discipline to upbringing their children.
  • Two recent incidents of family violence in Belize are stark reminders to the government of its obligation to protect children from all forms of violence. The death of the two-year-old toddler who died at the hands of his stepfather is yet another example of the fatal results of legalised violence against children. The case of a son who held down his mother to help his father beat her is a chilling example of how the lesson that violence is acceptable can result in violence against women.

NOPCAN considers that children in Belize are victims both of violence and discrimination because corporal punishment results in discrimination and is the result of discrimination. This is contrary to the Belize constitution which is founded on faith in human rights and fundamental freedoms and enshrines non-discrimination. NOPCAN regrets very much that children’s voices are absent from the current consultation and that the only voices being heard are those of adults, including perpetrators of the violence the Ministry is seeking to prohibit.

Mr Yorke added: “Where are the voices of children now, in this national consultation? The voices of the victims must be heard, not only those of the perpetrators. The argument that children are not capable of participating at the level adults can, while partially true, ought not to be an excuse to leave them out. For when we do, we make a terrible assumption that they are less than human. What a travesty!”

Contact: Mr Denbigh Yorke, Executive Director, NOPCAN office: +501-203-0441 or cell: +501-620-4905 email nopcanbelize@yahoo.com

NOPCAN's main mission, since its foundation 17 years ago, has been to increase public and professional awareness and understanding of children’s rights as laid down in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and to advocate and campaign for the right of every child to live a life free of all forms of abuse and neglect, including all forms of violence. In 1999, NOPCAN held its first national teachers’ conference on the subject of positive discipline. In 2005, it contributed to the UN Global Study on Violence against Children.

Further information

pdf: http://www.crin.org/docs/nopcan.doc

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