German research supports Bangladesh ban on corporal punishment

Corporal Punishment Pic

Sir Frank Peters :: It comes as no surprise that a new university study, conducted by German researchers, concludes that corporal punishment does “lasting psychological harm” and supports the Bangladesh law that bans it.

“Parents aim to educate children through corporal punishment, but instead of learning good social behaviours, the beatings often have the opposite effect,” said study leader Tobias Hecker, a psychologist at the University of Konstanz.

To test whether the same is true in a culture where physical punishment is the norm and the law allows teachers to use it, the researchers interviewed 409 children between grades two and seven at one private school in Tanzania.

Ninety-five per cent of the boys and girls said a teacher had physically punished them at least once in their lifetime. The same percentage reported physical punishment from parents or caregivers. The majority of children, 82 per cent, had been beaten with sticks; belts or other objects and 66 per cent had been punched, slapped or pinched. Nearly one-quarter of the kids had experienced punishment so severe that they were injured.

“Children learn aggressive behaviour and become more aggressive toward other children,” Psychologist Hecker said.

Within the group, 21 per cent of the boys and girls showed aggression problems through affirmative answers to questions like, ‘Have you ever taken things from others against their will?’

“Some people still believe, despite an overwhelming body of evidence, that corporal punishment in some cultures won’t result in as many negative effects,” said Professor George Holden, a psychology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “But, as this study shows, it’s difficult to find support for that argument.”

Thirty-four countries have outlawed corporal punishment, Sweden being the first in 1979. Eminent Bangladesh High Court justices Md. Imman Ali and Md. Sheikh Hassan Arif outlawed the barbaric practice in Bangladesh schools on January 13, 2011; declaring it to be “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and a clear violation of a child’s fundamental right to life, liberty and freedom”.

“What people usually see after a spanking or beating is immediate compliance,” Professor Hecker said. “But in the long-term, they are really instilling fear in the child and children act out of fear, not respect.”

In her book, Breaking The Paddle: Ending School Corporal Punishment, top American school psychologist Nadine A. Block, who has campaigned against corporal punishment for 25-years, wrote: “Corporal punishment leads to physical injuries of children, psychological problems, alienation from school, school drop-outs and loss of self esteem, to name a few. It’s inhumane, ineffective, and archaic.”

The Primordial Violence, a book written by Murray A. Strauss, Professor Emeritus of Sociology and Co- Director, Family Research Laboratory, University of New Hampshire, brought together research of more than 40 years, and concluded that corporal punishment is extremely dangerous and harmful.

“Ending corporal punishment will not only reduce the risk of delinquency and mental health problems, it also will bring to children the right to be free of physical attacks in the name of discipline, just as wives gained that human right a century and a quarter ago,” he said.

In 2011 when the anti corporal punishment law was introduced, Bangladesh was perceived internationally to be more civilised, conscious of its human rights obligations, and on the right track for a better future. Since then we’ve seen much flag-waving photo opportunities in support of children’s rights, but little substance: more sizzle than steak. And, worse, families of trees have been sacrificed in the process.

A country that fails to invest in its children doesn’t have a future – the children are its future. The healing process can begin by ridding its schools and madrasahs of the cruel, inhuman cruelty – both mental and physical – together with the lawbreakers who perform it.

Teachers have the choice of being part of the solution, or part of the problem: a respected friend of the State or a despised enemy.A classroom is no place for lessons in terrorism. The rot must stop.

Sir Frank Peters is a former newspaper and magazine publisher and editor, an award-winning writer, humanitarian, human rights activist, and an outspoken foreign friend of Bangladesh.

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