It is almost a rhythmic pattern that every day, a school child is beaten by their teacher somewhere around Zimbabwe. Some are beaten so severely they have to seek medical attention.
Although no figures are yet available to substantiate the extent of this violence, media reports have shown that corporal punishment is still being meted out on pupils in violation of standing rules over the matter.
Children are beaten with sticks, whips, rulers, boards and many other objects from pre-school right up to high school.
Corporal punishment has been repeatedly shown to be ineffective with disastrous consequences.
A former Bernard Mizeki High School pupil who is now a lecturer at a local university said he was a victim of severe beatings by some of his teachers, a matter that still bothers him 15 years on.
“I was beaten for not polishing my shoes, unkempt hair or just being slow in doing my work. The beatings were so bad that I sometimes could not sit in my chair in class because of swollen buttocks,” he said.
“Those teachers are still around though not at that school anymore, but I dread to imagine what they are doing at the various schools that they were posted to. Parents should be made aware that child abuse in schools especially in boarding is rife.”
The lecturer fell short of divulging homosexual activities at boys only schools.
“That is something I don’t want to think about. It did happen,” he said.
In Mwenezi, a headmaster assaulted a schoolboy because he was found out of bounds and the child is in hospital with serious brain damage.
In another incident, a Chinhoyi High School student, Moreblessing Musiiwa, died after he was allegedly struck with a cricket bat by the school’s sports director, Joseph Mpala, while the caretaker, Lameck Katungunde, held him.
Recently, parents of a new grade one pupil at a school in Avondale complained that their child was assaulted by a teacher.
Reports from the school indicate that the woman involved was so frustrated with her work life, and her actions towards these innocent children was a way of venting out her anger.
A teacher from Dzivaresekwa in Harare who preferred to remain anonymous said most teachers were experiencing serious financial problems hence vented out their frustrations on schoolchildren.
“A parent once came to me and shouted at me for not marking her daughter’s homework. You see, I earn such little pay and I have lost all the desire for this work. I told her that if she was not happy with me, she would have to approach the school head about changing classes,” a teacher said.
“Most teachers are not happy about the incentives being offered because of the discrepancies across all schools in Zimbabwe. That is a fact that everybody should be made aware of.”
Education minister David Coltart said in a telephone interview recently he would soon be engaging the three teachers’ unions in a bid to abolish incentives when salary scales improve.
“Towards end of last year, we said we would wait and see whether the salary allocations would translate into substantial income and abolish incentives,” Coltart said.
“The sooner I can abolish incentives, the better but I can only do so when teachers have started receiving reasonable salaries.”
School authorities have been demanding the most absurd fees for various functions, a situation that has been created to ensure staff gets more incentives. But this has since become an extortion kind of game.
“When a parent fails to meet those obligations, the child suffers through either being sent back home or verbal assaults.
The school environment is no longer the place we thought was second to home in terms of safety.
School areas are no longer child friendly and we call on government to take action as a matter of urgency,” said another parent from Dzivaresekwa.
A schoolchild described recently how his teacher made him stand in the blazing sun for four hours because he had made noise in class.
“He told me to face directly into the sun and that really hurt. He went on to say I was one of the many children whose parents had not paid the extra amounts demanded to cushion teachers,” said Tawanda from a school in Highfield.
The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child found that “corporal punishment and other cruel or degrading forms of punishment are forms of violence and states must take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to eliminate them”.
Coltart said there is a statutory instrument that sets out when corporal punishment can be implemented and this is done in limited circumstances. He said anything done outside those perimetres is illegal.
“Corporal punishment can only be done when a child has committed a very serious offence and corporal punishment is then implemented by certain authorities,” he said, adding that it is inexcusable for teachers to vent their anger on pupils.
Corporal punishment is violent and unnecessary as it may lower self-esteem. It is also liable to instill hostility and rage.
Research suggests that corporal punishment has no positive long-term effects. It instead introduces a whole mess of other complications including increased dropout rates.
Zimbabwe may be in violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which Zimbabwe ratified on October 11, 1990. This convention abhors corporal punishment which now forms part of local statutes.
“Beating a child is a violation of human rights. That abuse haunts and hurts them forever. They grow up to be either aggressive or passive adults,” said a local psychologist.
A female teacher also noted: “I have never beaten any child. My eyes and voice do the job and I have successfully taught disciplined children who are leaders in their own right. They are our next generation heroes. ”
Efforts to get official comment from Secretary for Education Stephen Mahere were unsuccessful despite having sent the questions as per his request last Monday.