APRIL 27 — United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) is saddened at the tragic and unnecessary death of Mohamad Thaqif Amin Mohd Gaddafi, 11, as a result of corporal punishment inflicted on him while in the care of his boarding school.
Schools and the home should offer a safe environment in which children are nurtured to grow and develop to their full potential. Schools should be violence free. Parents have the right to trust that when entrusted to the care of others, their child will not be harmed, and children have the right to feel safe in their care.
Statistics show that corporal punishment is the preferred form of discipline for children in Malaysia although alternatives exist.
An academic survey by researchers from Universiti Malaya published in 2011, reported that about 22 per cent of secondary school students in Malaysia noted experiencing multiple types of victimisation — physical, emotional, sexual and neglect. Three percent of respondents say they were exposed to all four types.
Another report commissioned by Unicef on Violence against Children in East Asia and the Pacific published in 2014 shows that the prevalence of more severe forms of corporal punishment by a teacher to be consistently higher for boys across the region.
There are consequences to our inaction. When children are caned and shamed, they are harmed by the acts of their teachers. The pain they feel in the present cause physical and emotional scars they carry for life. Corporal punishment is cruel, inhuman and degrading. It undermines a child's dignity and self-worth.
Corporal punishment is a method that is often mistakenly perceived as the only way to set rules and instil discipline among children. Negative discipline is proven to be counter-productive and only leads to a future of continued violence.
Studies have shown that children who are physically punished at school and in other settings are less likely than other children to internalise moral values, and may become depressed or aggressive.
Neuro scientific evidence has shown that violence against children, be it physical or emotional undermines a child's cognitive development. Last November at the third High Level Meeting on South-South Cooperation for Child Rights in Asia and the Pacific which was hosted by the Government of Malaysia, experts and governments agreed that violence experienced in childhood negatively impacts countries’ social and economic development because it both decreases productivity and increases the burden on healthcare systems.
Violence prevention is an economic investment for the future that can bring important socio-economic returns. It allows governments to reduce expenditure on response services, impacts positively on health and productivity, improves educational outcomes and prevents crime.
The loss of Mohamad Thaqif to his family, school and society is a stark reminder of the negative consequences of corporal punishment and violence as a form of discipline. Non violent approaches to discipline children exist and have proven to be effective.
Positive discipline teaches a child right from wrong, and how to treat others without inflicting physical and emotional harm caused by caning, ridicule or shaming. It respects the dignity of the child. Unicef has been advocating for their adoption by educational institutions and parents here in Malaysia. Again we urge the Government of Malaysia to ban all forms of corporal punishment against children.
Last February Unicef and the Early Childhood Care & Education Council (ECCE) jointly organised a forum on violence-free early childhood. The event brought together 150 experts, parents, early childhood educators, caregivers, enforcement officers, policy makers and other key stakeholders in Malaysia.
Together they explored practical ways and means to create a violence-free environment for children, which is essential for their holistic growth, especially during the early years of life.
Malaysia is a signatory of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) which carries obligations regarding our treatment of children. The country has, however, maintained its reservations on Article 37 which states that “no child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
Lifting its reservations to article 37 of the CRC would show Malaysia's commitment to put an end to violence against children in all forms in line with the 11th Malaysia Plan and Sustainable Development Goals.
A 2015 research commissioned by Unicef “Estimating the Economic Burden of Violence against Children in East Asia and the Pacific” found that child maltreatment cost countries in East Asia and the Pacific US$209 billion (RM913 billion) per year which is equivalent to 2 per cent of the region’s GDP. The report breaks down the cost of the damages to emotional abuse (US$65.9 billion), physical abuse (US$39.6 billion) sexual abuse (US$39.9 billion) neglect (US$32.4 billion), witnessing domestic violence (US$31 billion) and death from maltreatment (US$0.5 billion).
* Unicef statement on corporal punishment that led to death of child issued on April 27, 2017
** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.