Education officials in Dominica say there is a "fine line" between discipline and child abuse, noting that people often think they are disciplining children when they are being physically abusive. It is one of the reasons the Ministry of Education is considering the elimination of corporal punishment in schools.
“We have to really rethink this thing and look at the research and what is happening internationally and decide whether we want to keep corporal punishment on our books,” said Melena Fontaine, the country’s chief education officer.
Education officials across the island will have their say on the topic, as the Ministry of Education hosts a series of sessions on the issue.
As part of the "Child-Friendly Schools Initiative," the government has been espousing the benefits of alternative methods of discipline, which Fontaine says should lead to the elimination of corporal punishment.
“The Education Act say corporal punishment is a last resort, so make it a last resort, because there are so many other strategies that we can use to discipline children,” she said.
Dominica’s Education Act of 2007 states that "corporal punishment may be administered" in primary and secondary schools, although the Act restricts the administration of corporal punishment to principals, deputy principals and designated teachers. The Early Childhood Education Regulation of 2003 makes no mention of restrictions to corporal punishment.
One of the Caribbean’s most celebrated pollsters, Peter Wickham, said this week that regional views of corporal punishment are guided by religion.
“I find in terms of my research on religion and the extent to which there is a relationship for many of these issues across the region is that one of the primary reasons why people do a thing the way they think is because they believe that’s the way religion wants them to do it. It doesn’t have anything to do with the reality," he said.
"As far as people’s perceptions are concerned, they think that being good people and being good Christians means that they have to do three things: beat their children, they have to be homophobic and they have to support the death penalty," he added.
He called on religious leaders to educate their followers on the proper interpretation of biblical teachings.
But Fontaine believes the use of corporal punishment is waning.
“We are actually seeing a decrease in the use of corporal punishment in our schools, not because we are saying not to use it but because there is no need to use it thanks to the alternative measures,” she said.
Those against corporal punishment argue that it is in breach of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which most Caribbean countries are signatories.
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