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Kenyan Children Suffer Frequent Beatings by Teachers

Few teachers held accountable, even for broken bones

 

Violent physical punishment, inflicted at the hands of teachers, is a regular part of the classroom experience for many Kenyan children, Human Rights Watch charged in a report "Spare the Child: Corporal Punishment in Kenyan Schools."

The report, "Spare the Child: Corporal Punishment in Kenyan Schools," documents how teachers routinely slap, pinch, kick, cane with bamboo or wooden sticks, or sometimes flog their students with rubber whips. Boys are usually hit on the backside, while girls are hit on the palm of the hand, although children also reported being beaten all over their bodies, including their heads.

Children are punished for a wide range of behavior including extraordinarily minor "offenses," such as fidgeting in class, being tardy, wearing a torn or dirty uniform, or not being able to answer a question. Children are also often punished for poor academic performance, when they fail to score the teacher's target mark on an exam. Sometimes an entire class might be caned for failing to reach target marks on national exams.

Kenya's regulations on school discipline currently authorize the use of corporal punishment in schools. They strictly limit and regulate its use, but those limits are routinely ignored, and the infliction of corporal punishment is unchecked, widespread, arbitrary, and often brutal.

"Kenyan teachers basically have free license to beat their students," said Yodon Thonden, counsel to the Children's Rights division of Human Rights Watch, and researcher of the report. "The laws should be changed-and so should many years of cruel habit."

Children often suffer bruises and cuts, while more severe injuries-such as broken bones, knocked-out teeth, internal bleeding-are not uncommon. Many suffer psychological scars. In the most extreme cases, beatings have left children permanently disfigured, disabled and even dead.

The Ministry of Education has done little to enforce the nominal limits on corporal punishment. Teachers are rarely questioned or disciplined for using excessive force against their students, even when serious injuries result. In the rare cases when criminal prosecutions did result because the children were seriously injured or killed, teachers tended to be acquitted or let off with only minor fines.

Little or no redress exists for children and parents who oppose such punishment. Those interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they feared that complaining might lead to further harassment by teachers and more severe punishments in the future.

Headmasters reported that those who complain are given a choice-accept the punishment or quit the school. Transferring to another school after "disciplinary" trouble can be close to impossible. The result is that some children are effectively forced to give up their education altogether.

"Not only is this corporal punishment a form of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of children, it also affects children's basic right to education," said Thonden. "There are clear links between teachers beating children and children dropping out of school."

Such routine and severe corporal punishment violates both Kenyan law and international human rights standards. According to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, school corporal punishment is incompatible with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the world's most widely-ratified human rights treaty. Many nations throughout the world have recognized that school corporal punishment violates the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, and constitutes a cruel, inhuman, and degrading practice.

Human Rights Watch called on the Kenyan government and its Ministry of Education to ban corporal punishment in schools, and to aggressively seek to train teachers in alternative means of maintaining discipline and motivating children.

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