"There are many ways to educate; You can talk to the boys, punish them or hit them." Emanuel Juma (not his real name) sits in a chair in the courtyard of a primary school in Kigamboni, a district of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania's most populous city, where he works as a teacher. "I think hitting the hands of misbehaving students with a stick is a good way to correct certain behaviors," he says. And he mentions other usual punishments in the school where he teaches: forcing the kids to do work such as pruning the gardens during school hours, or forcing them to remain on their knees for an hour or two. "Parents usually agree; They want their children to have a positive attitude."
In Juma's country, corporal punishment in schools is normalized. In 2017, Human Rights Watch published a comprehensive report reporting that in Tanzania, 78 percent of girls and 67 percent of boys had been physically abused by their teachers. Students reported routinely being beaten on their hands with bamboo sticks and some students reported being beaten in breasts or buttocks by their teachers. Publications in local and international media have spoken of this practice, especially when sanctions lead to public derision or tragedy. One of the most notorious occurred in 2019, when an educator was sentenced to death for so brutally assaulting a boy who died from his injuries.
One day I went home early because I wanted to play football with other friends. The next day, the teacher took a stick and began to whip the soles of my feet with it.
Hemed Shamte, 15-year-old student
Corporal punishment of children in Tanzania extends beyond the classroom. Their legal protection, too. A report prepared by several organizations published in September 2022 emphasizes the need to prohibit this practice and reviews the legal provisions that regulate it. Section 13 of the Children's Act allows for "justifiable correction" for children with bad behaviour. And the National Education Regulations of 1979, covered by the national education law a year earlier, state that teachers can beat students. It must be in hands and buttocks, with a light and flexible stick (not with another instrument) and when there have been serious disobediences or infractions that discredit the authority of the school. The Children Act 2011 in Zanzibar (an island where its own legal provisions usually apply) confirms that parents can "discipline" their children as long as they do not cause injury. Some countries neighbouring Tanzania have already managed to end this practice or, at least, outlaw it. Kenya, for example, has banned corporal punishment of children in all cases.
Receiving beatings as a routine
Chacha Maneno is 13 years old and attends a school in Dar es Salaam, where she is in her first year of secondary school. Despite only being in school for a few months, he has already experienced these punishments. He says: "The first time they beat me was for writing my name on a bathroom door. They hit me with a stick three times on my hands. At other times they hit me on the head with a tickle, or three sticks in the palms," he says. Hemed Shamte, a 15-year-old student at the same school, adds: "One day I went home early because I wanted to play football with other friends. The next morning, the teacher picked up a stick and whipped the soles of my feet. More than 10 batons."
In Tanzania, where almost 50% of the more than 63 million inhabitants live on less than two euros a day, only 52% of adolescents access secondary education. They encounter more obstacles than they do. One in four girls becomes a mother between the ages of 15 and 19 and 31% marry before they turn 18. And the girls are not spared the blows either. Amisa Juma, who is in the last year of primary education, speaks: "I no longer count the times they hit me; If I don't behave well, they attack me and that's it." Juma believes that the attitude of his teachers is the right one, that with such sanctions they get what they want. And he says he's never talked about it with his parents. "It's a punishment for doing something wrong and I don't want them to find out," he acknowledges. Sara Oscar, a five-year-old girl in first grade, did tell it at home when one day, after chatting with a classmate during a class, she received three blows in the hands. "My mother told me to keep quiet next time," she recalls.
Moving towards another legality
Elena Ramos, principal for seven years of the Blue Sky School in Arusha, a northern region, mentions some bloody cases: "There are schools where public punishments are imposed. If the kids do something that is considered very bad, such as being late several days in a row, they are placed in an elevated place and the entire teaching staff goes on to give them a beating in front of everyone." She believes that in recent years there is a change for the better or that, at least, there is interest in knowing how else to educate. And he illustrates this evolution with the following example: "I told a teacher that we did not hit and that we were going to give her other tools. And she replied that she would like to know as soon as possible why it was bad to beat children because she, her children, was educating them with sticks."
"I told a teacher that we didn't hit and that we were going to give her other tools. And she replied that she would like to know as soon as possible why it was bad to beat children because she, her children, was educating them with sticks."
Elena Ramos, former principal of Blue Sky School, Arusha
The case of Tanzania is no exception to what happens in other parts of the world: while 135 nations do include a ban on corporal punishment in schools, in another 64 these provisions do not exist or are not complete. "Article 19 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child states that States must take the necessary measures to protect children from all forms of physical abuse. Article 28 recognizes the right to access a decent education," explains Carlos García de Bakedano, UNICEF specialist in Spain in Education programs in contexts of Development and Emergencies. The text he mentioned had been ratified by 196 States. "It happens in countries in Africa or Asia, but in areas of Latin America it is still a major challenge," he adds.
García de Bakedano explains that the evolution by country is uneven and cites some cases. In Ghana, physical corrections in schools are not illegal, but certain authorities have advised against their use. In the United States, the ban only extends to 29 states. And in nations such as Tanzania or Botswana there has been no significant progress. "Beyond the laws, we must involve local leaders, educational communities, families... A case that calls for optimism is Cambodia, where the involvement of teachers has achieved the reduction of this form of sanctions by 30%." The UNICEF specialist concludes: "Studies conclude that the consequences of corporal punishment, in the long run, cause problems of self-esteem, mental health or addictions."
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