Corporal Punishment as a Disciplinary Measure in Sri Lanka

Amanda de Moore

Corporal punishment in any form is a violation of Human Rights. Banning corporal punishment was a main issue discussed at the recently convened meeting of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. While corporal punishment is used as a means of maintaining discipline, it is indisputable that it is a violation of the fundamental rights of a child.

According to a press release published on 30th January 2018, the Chairperson of the National Child Protection Authority declared that the NCPA takes tough action on corporal punishment in all schools. She further stated that the NCPA’s investigation on corporal punishment was in relation to a student’s complaint regarding an incident in an international school where a teacher made nine children kneel down and pulled their ears as punishment for forgetting to bring the reading books. The incident was a topic of controversy due to both international and domestic legal provisions that ensure the protection of the right of the child to enjoy freedom from any form of physical and mental harm.

Corporal Punishment and the Rights of the Child

A child is a “minor”. According to Article 1 of the Convention on the Rights Child (CRC), “a child means every human being below the age of eighteen years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.”

Moreover Article 19 (1) of the Convention provides that “States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child”.

Further, placed within the context of human rights, corporal punishment can be perceived as a violation of children’s fundamental right to physical integrity and human dignity, as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. These international conventions guarantee that the fundamental rights of the child encompass protection against all forms of torture and inhuman and degrading activities.

Legal Framework in Sri Lanka

The Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka guarantees the fundamental rights of Sri Lankan citizens in Article 11 of chapter three, where it states that “no person shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.  Thus, the constitution the supreme law of the country, sets the legal background to protect fundamental rights.

Corporal punishment includes beating, spanking, rapping on the head and slapping which could be defined as torture. However in the sense of Article 11 of the Constitution of Sri Lanka corporal punishment is therefore a violation of the fundamental rights of any person, including children.

International Discussion and Measures

Corporal punishment was discussed at the 77th session of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) on protecting rights of the child, which convened in Geneva in January 2018.

The UNCRC consists of 18 independent experts that monitor the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child by its State Parties. They also monitor the implementation of two optional protocols to the Convention, one on the involvement of children in armed conflict (OPAC) and one on the sale of children for child prostitution and child pornography. Sri Lanka became a Party to this convention in 1990.

Importantly, at the above-mentioned session of the UNCRC it was highlighted that Sri Lanka has not taken proper measures to ban corporal punishment and recommendations were made to take necessary measures to ban corporal punishment to children at their homes as well as in schools.

Effects and Consequences of Corporal Punishment

Scientific research highlight that physical punishment is neither an appropriate nor an effective method to maintain discipline. Research conducted on physical punishment in the United States along with the phoenix Children’s Hospital have concluded after decades of research regarding this issue, that parents and caregivers need to make every effort to avoid physical punishment.

Moreover, interviews with parents of children age 3 to 7 from more than 100 families  have found that children who are being punished physically are more likely resort to  beating or physical punishment as a means of resolving their disputes. The researchers have further found that parents who had experienced frequent physical punishment during their childhood were more likely to believe it was acceptable, and they frequently spanked their children, and their children, in turn, often believed spanking was an appropriate disciplinary method. This highlights that when adults use corporal punishment as a disciplinary method it gives children the impression that beating is a suitable means of punishing.

Ending Corporal Punishment

In conclusion it could be argued that corporal punishment is violence against children and not a valid disciplinary method. Moreover, as discussed above, it violates basic legal provisions in relevant conventions and the Sri Lankan Constitution.

As a Party to international conventions that mandate the protection of children against all forms of torture and violence, Sri Lanka is required to adhere to the principles set forth in these conventions and within the country’s own legal framework. Therefore, better alternatives to maintain discipline should be adopted to ensure that children are given due respect for their mental and physical wellbeing at home, as well as at educational institutions which protects children from being subjected to corporal punishment.

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