Corpun file 13132
New Straits Times, Kuala Lumpur, 21 March 2004
Spare the rod?
SOME experts argue that caning is
outdated, even primitive. Yet, many educators defend it as a way to stem rising
violence in schools. SUZIEANA UDA NAGU examines the issue.
childhood memory of being caned still haunts those who have been naughty in
school. One lash and the sting is indelibly imprinted on their minds.
Schools in Europe and the United Kingdom have stopped using the cane to
discipline delinquent youngsters following protests from parents and politicians
more than 16 years ago.
In Malaysia, however, the practice has never
left the school grounds.
Caning has always been legal in Malaysian
schools. The Education Ordinance 1957 (Amended 1959) allows corporal
punishments, such as caning, to be meted out by school authorities but only to
An Education Ministry directive issued in 1994 listed eight
offences that could warrant caning: truancy, involvement in criminal activities,
obscene and impolite behaviour, loitering, dishonesty, dirty appearance and
The 2003 probe on human rights awareness among secondary
school teachers, students and administrators conducted by researchers from local
universities assigned by the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (or Suhakam,
its Malay acronym) revealed the regular use of the cane in schools.
the inquiry found was gross breach of a child's rights committed by teachers,
students and administrators alike. Suhakam wanted to
gauge the level of human rights consciousness in schools in order to plan
Some 5,754 students in Form Two and Form Five who
attend co-educational, single-sex, religious and technical schools took part in
About 52 per cent of the students surveyed agreed that
caning commonly happened in their schools. It took place more often in rural
schools than urban ones. Almost 80 per cent of the cases occurred at technical
The results were revealed for the first time at the recent
National Convention on Human Rights Education jointly organised by Suhakam and
the Education Ministry.
Education Ministry and State Education
Department officials, teachers, school administrators and academicians
participated in the two-day conference themed A Place For Human Rights Education
Not surprisingly, Suhakam is disheartened by the findings of
its study. Commissioner and education working group chairman Professor Chiam
Heng Keng says that while Suhakam understands the need to discipline and punish
wrongdoers, it maintains that caning is not the best corrective measure.
"Caning only tells the child to stop whatever he has done. Yes, it is a
quick fix but it does not address the underlying problem," adds Chiam.
Teachers must work with parents to get to the root of the problem.
"Corporal punishment or kicking a student out of a school won't be of
much help," she says.
She cautions against confusing upholding the
rights of the child with indulging the child.
"We do not need to punish
in order to instil discipline. Harsh punishments tend to reinforce a child's
negative attitudes," she adds.
Yet Malaysia had signed and ratified the
Declaration of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1995 and had
adopted all but eight articles including Article 1 (definition of a child) and
Article 15 (freedom of association which entertains a child's right to meet with
others and to join or form associations).
Caning contravenes Article 19
of the CRC which is protection from abuse and neglect. Under the article, States
must protect the child from all forms of maltreatment by parents or others
responsible for his or her care.
Like Suhakam, child experts are
completely against corporal punishment.
Corporal punishment is a form of
child abuse, said Dr D. Sinniah, who is formerly from the Department of
Paediatrics at the University of Malaya, in a New Straits Times article titled
Don: Abolish caning in schools which was published in 1993.
"There is no
evidence to suggest that corporal punishment can improve a child's learning
ability," he said in an interview later.
"Inflicting severe punishment
and using mental humiliation on children have adverse effects such as loss of
self-esteem and personality changes with ramifications on adult life," Sinniah
wrote in a paper titled Teachers - A High Risk Group for Violence on Children
which was presented at the Third Asian Conference of Child Abuse and Neglect
held in Kuala Lumpur in 1993.
Some experts may be against caning but
many teachers still swear by it.
The Suhakam probe found that 79.5 per
cent of teachers and 71.8 per cent of administrators agreed that persistent
offenders should be caned.
Over the years, there have been several pleas
from the public for the power to cane to be extended to regular teachers.
When the New Straits Times carried out an informal survey on caning in
1996, parents and teachers who called its office sounded a resounding "yes" to
Last October, the Education Ministry allowed teachers other than headmasters, principals and those involved in disciplining students to use the cane.
The decision followed the rise in cases of assault on teachers and gangsterism by schoolchildren which were widely publicised by the media between last August and September.
It was recommended that only suitable teachers were empowered to cane students. Ideally, they should have at least 10 years of teaching experience and married with children.
Yet, until today, schools have not received any formal circular from the Ministry allowing school heads to permit regular teachers to use the cane, says National Union of the Teaching Profession secretary-general Lok Yim Pheng.
Teachers who are fed up with the rising cases of indiscipline in schools say caning is justified.
At the recent seminar, a principal of a school in Klang Valley said she was forced to cane two students that week as they had deliberately vandalised school property.
Students who engage in vandalism are infringing Article 17 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which is the right of a school to own property. In destroying school's property, students are depriving the school of it.
Another educator, a former principal who once taught at a rural school, also admitted to caning a student for constantly coming late despite staying just a stone's throw away from school.
"I did it to give him a jolt. It worked," said the former
NUTP's Lok concedes that there are other ways of disciplining
a student. These include imposing fines and sending students to detention class.
"Some schools have even made parents sign a pledge to ensure that their
children do not misbehave," she adds.
But what if a student fails to
respond to lenient forms of punishments? When push comes to shove, Lok says
principals and headmasters should use the rod professionally and with
"The disciplinary action should be meted out as a corrective
measure and not to cause injuries. A student must be told why the school has
decided to cane him," says Lok.
Even so, caning should be the penalty of
last resort and reserved for absolute hardcore cases. It should never be done
publicly, stresses Lok.
She trusts that school heads have weighed all
other options before deciding on the cane.
"They have been trained to
administer disciplinary actions properly. In fact, the Ministry has supplied
schools with guidelines on the correct way of disciplining students," she says.
But not all schools adhere religiously to the guidebook. The Suhakam
probe exposed that girls were also not spared the rod. Almost seven per cent of
female respondents from girls schools had reported this.
is surprising as the law clearly states that girls cannot be caned," says Chiam.
As for boys, the law says they can only be caned on their palms and
buttocks. They must also be wearing proper attire when the caning takes place.
Cases of girls being caned may be isolated ones. Nevertheless, it
underscores the need for teachers, administrators and students to be educated on
human rights, particularly the rights of the child.
cannot turn a blind eye to indiscipline in the name of respecting the CRC, as
"We cannot keep protecting the child if he or she continues
to do the wrong things," she says.
Lok hopes that teachers will be given
adequate legal protection in the event that they are taken to court by
For the sake of the youngsters, a middle ground
must be found.