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School CP - August 2004
The New Paper, Singapore, 15 August 2004
It was last resort, says principal
Primary 1 student caned in front of nearly a thousand students
Caning was not meant to humiliate boy, says principal
My son came home crying after seeing caning, says parent
By Grace Chua
HE'S just an errant Primary 1 pupil.
Yet, he was caned - publicly.
This 7-year-old was given one stroke of the cane in front of his teachers and schoolmates.
Nearly a thousand students from Primary 1 to 3 saw him being caned on the buttocks during afternoon assembly last week.
The principal of the school in Jurong confirmed the punishment.
Two older boys - in Primary 3 - were caned along with him. Each received two strokes of the cane.
It is understood that all three were caned for a 'serious offence' - equivalent to an adult act of vandalism or throwing killer litter, said their principal.
However, she declined to provide further details.
She would only say the boys were caned with their parents' knowledge and consent.
The parents could not be contacted yesterday.
But the incident made its mark on some students and their parents, including one who alerted The New Paper and protested against the caning.
So was it wrong to cane a 7-year-old?
The MOE guidelines on corporal punishment are clear enough:
The question of a child's age just doesn't arise, because it's assumed that schools would do everything to help the child.
But it still came as a shock to the people The New Paper spoke to.
While the parents of most of the students in the school did not know about the caning at all, the reactions of those who did ranged from astonishment to outrage.
One parent, who wished to be known only as Mrs Tan said: 'My 7-year-old son came back from school crying and traumatised after seeing his schoolmate caned on stage.
'He needs the assurance that he will not experience such things.
'I found it quite troubling that a Primary 1 child should be publicly caned,' she added.
Added housewife Mrs Flores, who also has a son in Primary 1 in the same school:
'Maybe the parents could discipline the child on their own. It's not suitable for the boy to be caned in school as it's so embarrassing.'
But there were those who saw nothing wrong with the way the school disciplined its pupils.
Madam Tan, 36, a housewife whose son is also in Primary 1 at the school, said in Mandarin: 'It's nothing to make a fuss about.
'Sometimes children just cannot be disciplined even though you try, and they should be caned.'
And that was the stand of the school principal.
She said that all three boys had already been counselled repeatedly.
They had also gone through the school's behaviour modification programme - a play-group therapy session to teach anger management and social skills - but to no avail.
'Caning is a punishment of last resort - after other methods have been used to counsel and discipline the pupil,' she added.
She emphasised that humiliating the boys was not the point.
Then why did the school cane them onstage in the first place?
Especially one who is only 7 years old?
'The offences he committed were serious and had great impact on his fellow schoolmates,' said the principal.
CANINGS 'VERY RARE'
For less serious offences such as theft or fighting, a student might be caned in her office instead of in front of the school.
But what about the impact of the caning on the young pupils who witnessed the punishment?
Form teachers were told to address any concerns that their pupils might have, and to look out for pupils who might be emotionally affected by the caning.
And canings were 'very rare' - less than once a year, she said.
She added that the boys were also counselled before and after the caning.
She did not decide lightly to come down with a heavy hand on the boys: It was the stroke of the last resort.CANING DIVIDES EXPERTS, PARENTS, PRINCIPALS
SHOULD primary school pupils be caned in public?
Child psychologist Kenneth Lyen feels children should not be caned in general.
'If the child does something nasty like hitting or punching someone, the last thing you want to do is to use force, because you'll be teaching them that physical violence is permissible. That's the one message you mustn't give the child,' he said.
As for caning in public, Dr Lyen said: 'That's the worst thing to do. It's humiliating and demeaning. You may engender a seething resentment of the system, the school and the principal.'
Anderson Primary principal Mr Chong Kwai Kuen said: 'I'm personally not for public caning, especially if the student is very young (lower primary). If they're still young, you should give them a chance.
'And public caning will have side-effects on the child's self-esteem,' he added.
Mr Leong Kok Hwa, 46, an accounts assistant, took the same stand.
'If a child is punished in front of the whole school he may lose his confidence because of the shame, and then lose interest in his studies,' said the father of a son in Primary 1 and a daughter in Secondary 2.
MOE counsellor, Miss Au Na Chuang, however, thought there could be no blanket rules for or against caning.
'You really have to look at the situation. If the child's done something that hurt a lot of people, then it may be justified. It's not so easy to say or to judge,' she said.
TRUST THE SCHOOL
One mother of three in her 40s, who wanted to be known only as Madam Wong, said: 'I believe the school would cane only for a repeat offence. I trust that the school would know the best thing to do.'
But in the end, it's parents who are responsible for disciplining their children, said Madam Yeo Hong Eng, 40.
'Children these days are quite pampered. At home they can do a lot of things, but once they get to school, there are rules to follow. Parents should also do their part,' said the civil engineer, whose daughter is in Pri 4.
Copyright © 2004 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved.
The New Paper, Singapore, 18 August 2004
Public caning of boy, 7, stirs hot debate
By Grace Chua
READERS reacted fast - and some, furiously - after a 7-year-old boy was caned in a school in Jurong ('It was last resort, says principal', The New Paper, Aug 14).
He was given one stroke on the buttock while two older boys got two strokes each at school assembly as teachers and students looked on.
It is understood all were caned for a 'serious offence'. But the exact nature of their offence was not disclosed.
Use the rod?
It will scare the child
Dawn Tan via e-mail
I wish to express my contempt and disgust over this matter.
Such corporal punishment administered to a 7-year-old could inflict an emotional and psychological scar that he will carry to adulthood.
Unless carefully counselled, he may develop a perverse attitude towards his teachers.
Principals and teachers, your main responsibility is to assist parents in educating the child in a humane manner.
Should there be a need to resort to physical contact in terms of punishment, I feel parents should be the ones to carry out the punishment.
If the student fails to heed the repeated advice of teachers or principal, the advice of professional child psychologists should be sought.
Schools should not resort to use of the rod on the child, especially in full view of the public.
Even criminals are not caned in public.
Caning is crude
Samuel Owen via e-mail
I was shocked to read about the caning and appalled by the principal's subsequent explanation.
What a sorry state we must be in for the principal to believe there was 'no other resort' but to cane a 7-year-old.
Are we running corrective institutions or schools?
I am a parent who strongly believes that to spare the rod is to spoil the child, but I also believe there must be other remedies available to principals to deal with 7-year-olds.
After all, a child so young knows very little about life.
Should he or she be subject to extreme punishment?
It is really hard to believe there were no other choices, no other way to deal with a 7-year-old.
Our children watch our behaviour and learn from what we do.
I hope there is a way that all parents here will be able to explain to their children what happened here, because, so far, the explanations we have seen in the press are weak and lame in my view.
It is time to put some clear rules in place. Otherwise, I fear we will all be taking the attitude of the parent who said, 'It's nothing to make a fuss about', and slip back into the Dark Ages.
Care, don't scare
Pang Gek Pang Walter via e-mail
Has the school principal referred the boy to the Child Guidance Clinic?
Has she roped in the expertise of the MOE Pastoral Care and Career Guidance officers? Do they have a case file on him at all?
What about the volunteer social worker(s) attached to the school, if any - have they a case file on this poor little 7-year-old?
I think the principal should have instead suspended the boy for a time when his parents could have taken him for some form of psychological assessment with a qualified educational psychologist.
Even my little autistic son, who will turn 6 this November, would cry if he is placed in the same room with another crying child.
I strongly feel the MOE must intervene in this matter, just as it has done in a few other cases recently.
Use the rod?
It will spoil the child
Ho Chin Poh, via e-mail
AS one who had been caned in school twice, once in Primary 3 and again in Primary 6 (both times in the principal's office), I advocate caning in school.
Caning is not merely meant to discipline the wayward students, whom I believe are just a small minority. Caning is also to protect the majority who are well-behaved and wanting to learn.
If bullies are allowed to continue their antics, think of those who are their victims.
How would you feel as parent of a well-behaved son who is constantly being bullied, coming home daily traumatised, and the school just does nothing?
We should consider the majority of parents who want the schools to provide a safe learning environment.
This safe environment can only be had if schools are allowed to discipline the wayward ones as they see fit.
Let principals and teachers get on with teaching our children rather than spending time and effort counselling the errant ones.
To those parents who feel uncomfortable about their 7-year-old sons being traumatised from witnessing a public caning, let me remind them that the school is protecting their children from the errant ones.
Nothing is worse than seeing your son being bullied by these undisciplined boys and the school being prevented from taking appropriate actions.
Talk doesn't always work
Tony Tan via e-mail
I whole-heartedly applaud the school principal for caning the boy.
There are some so-called Western-educated child experts who constantly speak against corporal punishment because it will cause psychological damage and humiliation to the child.
These people will have the rest of us think that the only right way to discipline a child is to talk to them nicely, reason with them and treat them like your friends.
While such methods are good, they don't always work.
While hitting a child indiscriminately for something he has done wrong is definitely not right, allowing a child's bad behaviour to go unchecked is equally wrong.
Education requires discipline.
What if your child is in the same class as a problem child? If the teacher has to stop the lesson every so often to discipline this problem child, other children will lose out.
The very fact this Primary 1 child is a repeat offender means his own parents have most likely lost control of him.
If a mere stroke on the bottom in front of the school is such a problem and the principal has to be taken to task by the public and the media, perhaps the nature of the child's offences should be made public as well.
Then we will have a clearer idea of what we are judging.
Copyright © 2004 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved.
The New Paper, Singapore, 19 August 2004
Different strokes for different folks
By Melvin Singh and Genevieve Jiang
THE law here allows the caning of children but there are guidelines to be followed, as in the caning of a 7-year-old boy at a school in Jurong last week.
The United Nations, however, is against corporal punishment for children under 18 years.
In fact, it recommended last year that the law be changed here so corporal punishment is prohibited in schools, homes and the juvenile courts.
The Government, however, made it clear last year that it will abide by existing Singapore laws. Corporal punishment is allowed under the law. (See other report, below.)
The Government argues that under strict guidelines, children can be caned if they commit serious offences. The UN argues for other forms of punishment.
Different strokes for different folks.
Asian societies, for example, tend to emphasise duty, social obligations and the greater good of the community. While elsewhere, there might be a greater leaning towards rights and checks against possible abuse.
The Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) told The New Paper that in 1995, Singapore became a signatory to the UN Convention On The Rights Of The Child (CRC).
And every five years, after the initial report in 2003, the Government has to provide a comprehensive report to the UN.
OTHER LAWS PROTECTING CHILDREN'S RIGHTS
Singapore already has a variety of laws here, including the Children and Young Persons Act, protecting children's rights.
So why become a signatory to the CRC?
The answer is why not?
The Government felt the respect for human rights here was already at a much higher level than in many other countries which have acceded to such conventions.
Professor Tommy Koh, who was then Ambassador-at-large, had said then that not signing would 'project Singapore as seemingly out of the mainstream of the international community'.
But there were several points where the Government didn't agree with the UN.
For example, under article 19 of the CRC, children under 18 cannot be subjected to corporal punishment including caning.
But the Government argued that the laws and social context here are different. The Government said children should be taught to be responsible for their actions.
Among other things, the Government said in its initial report last year that it allows corporal punishment to be meted out to children in primary school. Guidelines here already do not allow for children in child-care centres to be caned.
A delegation led by Mr Chan Soo Sen, Minister of State for Education, presented the report to the UN Committee on the Rights on the Child in 2003.
In a reply to The New Paper, the MCYS said: 'The delegation highlighted Singapore's emphasis on handling child misconduct through a wide range of verbal and counselling methods, with caning and corporal punishment of male children being permitted only for serious offences and misbehaviors and then only under controlled circumstances in institutional settings.'
But the UN Committee's response was to recommend that the Government 'amend legislation to prohibit corporal punishment in the home, schools, institutions and the juvenile justice system...'
The Government, however, argued it could only accept the obligations it could fulfil and those that did not extend beyond the Constitution.
On corporal punishment, the Government argued that slight caning might be used in selective cases.
And the laws here provide for juvenile offenders to be caned. (See other report.)
But the Ministry of Education and MCYS have strict guidelines on how, when and where corporal punishment can be meted out to children.
For one thing, a teacher cannot slap a student out of anger.
What is the UN Convention On The Rights Of The Child?
THE CRC is an international treaty that recognises the rights of children, defined as persons aged below 18 years.
The convention is essentially a comprehensive charter of child rights, setting standards that governments should meet in providing healthcare, education, legal and social services to children below 18 years in their countries.
It was first adopted by the United Nations in 1989.
It is a result of 10 years of consultations and negotiations between government officials, lawyers, healthcare professionals, social workers, educators, children's support groups, non-governmental organisations and religious groups from around the world.
On Oct 2, 1995, Singapore acceded to the convention.
Article 19 of the CRC states that children must be protected against '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 a parent, legal guardian, or any other person who has the care of the child.
This includes corporal punishment.
Signatory countries include New Zealand, Bangladesh and Canada.
Punishment only for boys
CORPORAL punishment is used in schools only as a last resort.
And it can only be meted out to male students, by the principal or an authorised teacher.
Under no circumstances are female students subjected to corporal punishment.
The Ministry of Education specifies that corporal punishment should not be carried out in anger and should be done with a light cane on the palms or buttocks, and that other members of the school staff are not allowed to mete out corporal punishment.
Parents must be informed by the school of the punishment and details of the offence.
If they feel that the punishment has been too much, they can report the matter to the ministry, which will then investigate and take appropriate action against errant school personnel.
In juvenile institutions such as boys' homes, corporal punishment can be meted out only by the home's superintendent, or an authorised person.
Solitary confinement is for only very unruly and difficult residents.
Copyright © 2004 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved.
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