Skip to main content

Letter to the Minister of Education regarding concern over continued use of corporal punishment against children

We are writing to urge you to take decisive action on the problem of violence against children, and specifically corporal punishment in schools and in other settings. We believe that in your new role as Minister of Education, you will have a crucial function in improving the future of young Kenyans and protecting their rights.

We recognize that over the past eight years Kenya has made some progress in addressing the issue of corporal punishment in schools. Prior to 2001, corporal punishment in schools in Kenya was routine, arbitrary, and often brutal. As documented in a Human Rights Watch report “Spare the Child,” published in September 1999, teachers used caning, slapping, and whipping to maintain classroom discipline and to punish children for poor academic performance. Bruises and cuts were regular by-products of school punishments, and more severe injuries—such as broken bones, knocked-out teeth and internal bleeding—were not infrequent. At times, beatings by teachers left children permanently disfigured, disabled or dead.

As you are aware, the government banned physical and psychological abuse through the enactment of the Children’s Act in 2001, and in Legal Notice No. 56, which explicitly banned corporal punishment in schools. Since then, slow change has been occurring in Kenya. Some schools have started to adopt non-violent methods of disciplining children, and have abandoned caning. In 2002, the Director of Education issued a circular to all heads of learning institutions, reminding them that corporal punishment was outlawed. The government also carried out training seminars on alternative forms of discipline. Some teachers are now recognizing the benefits of respectful treatment of their pupils. As one teacher pointed out to Human Rights Watch: “Now, I see that the pupils come forward and speak their mind, before with corporal punishment, they were shy and didn’t approach us.” This observation is confirmed by academic studies, which have found that corporal punishment leads to higher levels of immediate compliance and aggression, and lower levels of moral internalization and mental health.

However, there is still considerable progress to be made. Corporal punishment is still widely used in schools, as the African Network for the Prevention and Protection against Child Abuse and Neglect (ANPPCAN), the Kenya Alliance For Advancement of Rights of Children (KAARC) and other Kenyan non-governmental organizations have documented. In August 2007, Human Rights Watch researchers carried out interviews with pupils, teachers and Ministry of Education officials. Pupils described how some teachers continue to cane children, while others resort to other forms of physical punishment, such as standing in the hot sun with their hands in the air for several hours; kneeling on the ground for extended periods; slapping and pinching. In some instances, physical abuse by teachers has led to serious and lasting injuries. Teachers also punish children by giving them harsh tasks, such as running long distances or uprooting tree stumps.

These continued abuses against children constitute a violation of current national laws, as well as a violation of Kenya’s international obligations as a party to the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. They show that the government must do more to fight corporal punishment in schools, and address weaknesses in the law and in implementing existing policies.

The Children’s Act does not explicitly ban corporal punishment in schools, homes or other settings; legal protections against abuse must be strengthened. There have been too few prosecutions of teachers who seriously abuse children; more needs to be done to facilitate access to justice for those parents and children who want to take their case to court. Teacher training has been too limited; typically, one teacher per school was sent to a training on alternative forms of discipline and counseling of pupils. The majority of teachers have not been trained and feel that the person who was trained at their school is not a sufficient resource for them.

The introduction of free primary education in 2003 exacerbated problems of discipline for many teachers. In some schools, teachers have more than one hundred pupils in their classrooms, including older children who were sent to school for the first time and found it hard to accept the authority of teachers. The government did not do enough to prepare teachers for this challenge. Current numbers of teachers are not sufficient to lower class sizes to a manageable level.

Some parents have brought their children to school and caned them in front of teachers, or asked the teachers to cane them in their presence. For the ban in schools to be effective corporal punishment must be abolished in all settings. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, in its 2007 review on children’s rights in Kenya, has expressed concern about “corporal punishment in the home, in the penal system, in alternative-care settings, as well as in employment settings,” as well as “the continued use of corporal punishment in practice by certain schools and the lack of measures to enforce the prohibition of this practice.”

The UN Secretary-General’s Study on Violence against Children, presented to the UN General Assembly in October 2006, showed once more the dire need for concrete action to protect children against corporal punishment in public and private settings. A core recommendation of the report is that governments prohibit all violence against children, including corporal punishment. The study’s chapter on violence against children in schools states that “governments have the obligation to explicitly prohibit violence against children by law, and to ensure the implementation of related policies and procedures at the school level—specifically putting a stop to corporal punishment and other humiliating or degrading treatment, bullying and other sexual and gender-based violence.” While the previous government participated in the regional launch of the UN Violence Study in May 2007, it failed to engage in any meaningful follow-up to implement the Study’s recommendations.

We therefore appeal to you to take strong action against corporal punishment in Kenya, in conjunction with the Minister of Gender and Children Affairs and the Minister of Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs. We specifically urge you to initiate the following measures:

• Introduce legislation explicitly prohibiting corporal punishment in school, in the home, and in all other settings. This could be done through amendments to the Children’s Act and the Education Act, which are currently being prepared for vote in parliament.

• Conduct public education and awareness raising campaigns on children’s rights to protect them from all forms of violence, including corporal punishment. Promote alternative, participatory, non-violent forms of discipline. This campaign should include work with parents, teachers, and other members of the community.

• Publish teacher guidelines on alternative forms of discipline in schools jointly with non-governmental children’s rights NGOs.

• Provide regular training to current and new teachers on the ban on corporal punishment, alternative forms of discipline and counseling.

• Increase the number of teachers to reduce pressure and discipline problems in schools, to improve dialogue between pupils and teachers, and raise the education standards in Kenya.

• Improve monitoring of teachers, guardians or others responsible for and working with and for children to ensure compliance with the ban on corporal punishment.

• Ensure that judicial action is taken against those who carry out corporal punishment in schools, in violation of Legal Notice No. 56. Take measures to facilitate access to justice for child victims and their parents.

• Take a lead in implementing the recommendations of the UN Study on Violence against Children, and for that purpose, set up a task force to develop and implement a national strategy or plan of action on ending violence against children (as recommended by The Cradle in a letter on May 20, 2008).

• Raise awareness among children about their rights, including the right to seek prosecution of those who use violence against them.

We hope that you will consider these as priority issues in your action plans and policies, and would welcome further discussion with you on our findings and recommendations.


Lois Whitman, Director, Children’s Rights Division, Human Rights Watch
Gilbert Onyango, Director, The Cradle—The Children’s Foundation
Tim Ekesa, Director, Kenya Alliance For Advancement of Rights of Children (KAARC)
Rose Odoyo, Director, African Network for the Prevention and Protection against Child Abuse and Neglect (ANPPCAN)—Kenya Chapter
Tom Chavangi, Director, Children Legal Action Network (CLAN)

Mr. Ahmed Hussein, Director of Children Service, Ministry of Gender and Children Affairs
Mr. Kathurima M’Inoti, Chairman of the Kenya Law Reform Commission
Mr. Per Engebak, ESARO Regional Director, UNICEF
Dr. Olivia Yambi, Kenya Country Representative, UNICEF

What some pupils and teachers told Human Rights Watch
“The children get beaten in school. All the teachers do it. I have also been beaten.” (Girl, age 14, Central province, Nairobi, August 10, 2007)

“If a teacher uses corporal punishment, like the English teacher for example, a student will know she is coming to beat us and we simply feel insecure it doesn’t help us to get better in English.” (Girl, age 13, Western province, Vihiga district, August 1, 2007)

“There are many forms of corporal punishment beyond just caning. For example, teachers can be mean and give you a plastic sac and say to fetch water with it, but this is impossible. Or they can give you a jerry can and tell you to go to the river, and use your mouth to fill up the jerry can.” (Boy, age 14, Western province, Vihiga district, August 1, 2007)

“The caning is there, maybe sometimes if you are late you are caned, or when you are fighting with your friends. Other teachers who don’t practice corporal punishment might make you sweep the classroom, might send you home, call your parents in, make you cut the grass at school, or run around the school ten times.… If [the teacher] calls the parents, then they cane you more than you have gotten at school.” (Pupil, Coast Province, Mombasa, August 13, 2007)

“Our teacher will hit us with the cane. Three times on the back of the hands for making mistakes or for making noise in class for example. This can happen daily someone will get caned for doing something.” (Boy, age 14, Central Province, Nairobi, August 11, 2007)

“When the circular from the government first came out, teachers didn’t know how to adjust, because we said that this is how we were raised. Then the government did one training on how to use counselling and testing. Only one teacher from each school went to that training.” (Teacher, Western province, Vihiga district, August 1, 2007)

“We have the same teacher who is teaching and supposed to do the counselling. So while in theory we have counselling at schools, this is not sufficient and we can say the counselling aspect is really lacking. The government trained one teacher [per school] in how to do the counselling.” (Teacher, Nyanza Province, Kisumu, August 1, 2007)

“There are parents who want us to beat them [the pupils], or they ask us to beat them in front of them with their permission.” (Head teacher, Western province, Kakamega district, August 2, 2007)

“Many parents here are insisting that kids must be disciplined. The parents come to the school and bring the child there and cane them in front of the teachers.” (Social worker, Western province, Kakamega district, August 2, 2007)

Your tax deductible gift can help stop human rights violations and save lives around the world.

Region / Country