A HIGH Court judge yesterday ruled that corporal punishment is permissible and cannot be classified as assault and a criminal offence if the intent to discipline is proven.
Justice Munamato Mutevedzi made the ruling when he cleared Yeukai Graham Mutero of charges of killing her 13-year-old son while trying to discipline him.
Mutero, who was subjected to a full trial, told the court that she had no intention to kill her son Desmond Matsatsi early this year while administering corporal punishment.
Mutevedzi ruled that corporal punishment was permissible in disciplining wayward children if proven that the intent is purely disciplinary.
“It is against the above background, that it becomes difficult to apportion any blame on the accused person. Taking the evidence and the circumstances of this case in their totality, our conclusion is that the accused assaulted the deceased in the normal course of parental discipline,” Mutevedzi ruled.
“It was unfortunate that the bid for discipline resulted in the tragic consequences which may have been aided by the deceased’s own violent behaviour in the community.”
The judge said evidence revealed that the deceased was a “sturdy boy who easily overpowered his mother when she wanted to assault him.”
“Had she not called for her brother’s assistance, she would not have been able to punish him. With those seemingly harmless weapons, the accused assaulted the deceased on the buttocks, back and thighs. Generally speaking an assault on those parts of the human anatomy is not commonly known to lead to fatalities,” Mutevedzi said.
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The judge said the law says a parent or guardian has authority to administer moderate corporal punishment for disciplinary purposes.
“It follows, therefore, that in cases of murder resulting from corporal punishment administered by a parent or other authorised person, it is not enough for prosecution to simply allege assault.”
“The State must, therefore, lead evidence which tends to show that the accused acted beyond the bounds of moderation. Her beating of the deceased remained reasonable. She did not harbour any intention, actual or legal, to hurt the deceased, let alone kill him.”
Mutero was accused of killing her son on January 20 this year.
The court heard that Desmond was mischievous with neighbours and members of the community were always complaining about his conduct.
Mutero is said to have reached a breaking point after she was told that Desmond had joined Nyau dancers.
She then summoned her brother and they tied the deceased to a bed before she beat him up with a stick.
The following morning she left for work, leaving her son still in bed.
Desmond’s sibling later found her brother already dead while still in bed, leading to the mother’s arrest.
Corporal punishment was outlawed in 2017 through a High Court ruling that declared article 60(2) (c) of the Educational Act unconstitutional.
Before 2017, the use of corporal punishment in Zimbabwean schools was allowed.
Section 68A of the Constitution outlaws corporal punishment in schools, using the constitutional grounds prohibiting any physical or psychological torture, or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
The law specifically bars teachers from beating schoolchildren in whatever circumstances.
In April 2019, the Constitutional Court ruled that no male juvenile convicted of any offence could be sentenced to receive corporal punishment.