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Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) welcomes the government’s announcement to prohibit the use of corporal punishment in educational institutions. Such a measure, if robustly implemented, will advance the welfare of all children by affirming in law that violence ought never be the way we discipline children

A necessary and far-reaching measure

In his contribution to the 2017 budget debate, Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced that “the government will amend the Education Act to explicitly prohibit corporal punishment in schools.” JFJ unreservedly endorses this move, and any other steps that address the longstanding gaps in the protection of children from violence. Corporal punishment has already been outlawed in early childhood institutions, children’s homes, and places of safety, under the Child Care and Protection Act. New legislative action to end the practice in schools would represent one of the most far-reaching measures in recent times to transform the national culture towards violence against children.

Corporal punishment is a demonstrably abusive practice that is invariably degrading. Jamaicans are all too aware of horrific cases of children suffering long-term physical injury from beatings simply for getting answers incorrect on tests or speaking out of turn. In some cases, school administrators unapologetically disregard the clear wishes of parents and flog young children on the basis that they have the legal right to do so. However, despite its prevalence, the existing legalized violence against children breaches their human rights to protection from all forms of violence, dignity, and equal protection of the law. It also sets terrible examples for children that violence is an appropriate way to resolve conflicts.

Alternative forms of discipline must be promoted

Changing an entrenched cultural practice will not be easy. Educators will need sustained training in alternative forms of discipline, and child development. The government, in partnership with civil society, must develop practical, culturally appropriate solutions and promote them widely. We urge the Ministry of Education to seriously invest in capacity-building at teacher’s colleges and schools at all levels, complimented by a robust enforcement structure. The best way to engender compliance is to make it easy. JFJ stands ready to partner with government on this important human rights initiative.

Complete the full reform of child rights legislation

We urge the government to complete the amendments to the Education Act expeditiously. That law, half a century old, is severely dated, and should not be subject an inordinately delayed reform process. Moreover, this measure should be the first step towards regulating corporal punishment in the family setting. Given the government’s stated intention to review the Child Care and Protection Act, it now has a clear opportunity to truly address corporal punishment in its two final frontiers. In so doing, it can make a lasting impression on the trajectory of child rights in Jamaica for years to come.