SAHRC to probe Paarl school's corporal punishment claims

2019-03-12 06:28
Paarl Boys High School (Jenni Evans)

Paarl Boys High School (Jenni Evans)

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The SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) will investigate the numerous allegations of corporal punishment made against Paarl Boys' High School, the Western Cape Department of Education (WCED) said on Monday. 

"Given the number of allegations that have been made and the fact that parents are not allowing their children to testify, the MEC (Debbie Schäfer) has requested the assistance of the [SAHRC] to investigate, and they have agreed," said Schäfer's spokesperson, Jessica Shelver.

Comment from the SAHRC in the Western Cape was not immediately available. This development followed allegations which News24 published that the outlawed form of discipline at schools was still being practised.

READ: Corporal punishment claims rock Paarl Boys' High School

The claims were also substantiated by numerous emails News24 received.

Pupils sang a song of solidarity at the school on Friday for the deputy headmaster and head of discipline, Richard Visagie, who was implicated in the allegations.

WATCH: Paarl Boys' pupils rally around teacher accused of corporal punishment

When interviewed by News24 last week, the school's headmaster Derek Swart, and chairperson of the school governing body denied that the school used corporal punishment. They said there had been one complaint in 2018, but did not know the outcome.

In response to questions, Shelver said that a final warning and a fine for misconduct was handed to Visagie last year by the WCED's labour relations department, and they had received another complaint from a doctor who had examined a pupil. 

However, Shelver said further complaints could not be investigated because the alleged victims did not want to be named for fear of negative backlash at the school.

Alternative sanctions

The topic has revived the debate over whether corporal punishment should be allowed at schools following several reports of pupils fighting, or clashing with teachers at schools in South Africa.

In the meantime, the WCED said there are a number of programmes in place for behaviour interventions, and encouraged schools to tell their district if they had training needs. 

READ: It was 'pure brutality', yet others see 'nothing wrong' – ex-Paarl Boys' High pupils

In the Western Cape Provincial School Education Amendment Bill, provision has also been made for the provincial minister to establish intervention facilities for pupils who may be expelled from a public school or found guilty of serious misconduct. 

She said pupils can be referred to these facilities as an alternative sanction to expulsion in disciplinary processes. 

"Establishing an intervention facility as an alternative, will enable the pupil to receive various therapeutic programmes and intervention strategies, specific to their situation, whilst still receiving an education," she said.

A document forwarded by Shelver states that corporal punishment is "by its very nature, anti-human and ultimately an abusive practice that entrenches the idea that violence provides a solution to every problem in the classroom.

"The removal of corporal punishment and the elimination of other dehumanising practices in our schools are necessary steps towards the development of a culture of human rights in our country," it read. 

'Damage'

The document, signed by the late education minister Kader Asmal in 2000, notes that there is a difference between punishment and discipline.

"Punishment is based on the belief that if children are made to suffer for doing wrong, they will not repeat their inappropriate behaviour. This approach has done untold damage to countless children, often resulting in feelings of alienation, entrenched patterns of anti-social behaviour and even acts of violence."

The document notes that there are many alternatives to corporal punishment which can be developed by pupils, teachers and parents via a school code of conduct.

"Like most other democracies, South Africa has passed several laws that make corporal punishment illegal. This means that any educator who beats a child can be charged with assault and possibly sued for damages by parents."

The booklet delves into ways that schools can manage discipline issues in a positive way.

Corporal punishment is defined as: any deliberate act against a child that inflicts pain or physical discomfort to punish or contain him/her. This includes, but is not limited to, spanking, slapping, pinching, paddling or hitting a child with a hand or with an object; denying or restricting a child's use of the toilet; denying meals, drink, heat and shelter, pushing or pulling a child with force, forcing the child to do exercise. Later, the United Nations changed its definition of torture to add corporal punishment and excessive chastisement as an educational or disciplinary measure.

Read more on:    sahrc  |  cape town  |  education
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