Analysis

Analysis: Teachers Must Take Heed Of Justice Wati’s Judgement On Disciplining Of Students

Any form of violence will not be condoned. Teachers should use non-violent ways to correct students
12 Oct 2019 16:40
Analysis: Teachers Must Take Heed Of Justice Wati’s Judgement On Disciplining Of Students
The Constitution of Fiji guarantees a child’s right to be free from any form of mental and physical violence.

Justice Anjala Wati says there are other ways to discipline children than corporal punishment.

She made the statement in her judgment in the case between former teacher Samuela Buluvakarua and the Ministry of Education, Heritage and Arts.

Justice Wati ruled in the Employment Relations Court that Buluvakarua’s dismissal for inflicting corporal punishment on some children was lawful and fair. She dismissed his claim challenging the dismissal.

Non-violent methods

Justice Wati advocated non-violent methods.

While she did not go into details, the banning of corporal punishment shifts the focus to counselling.

It’s an area where the Government has been looking at. Starting next year, the Ministry of Education will roll out its initiative to post professional counsellors to schools.

This means that any disciplinary matters will be referred to counsellors.

Justice Wati has made it clear that any form of violence is unlawful. While the degree of violence is not discussed in detail it can be reasonably assumed that what could be described as a gentle tap or slap on any part of a student’s body can be construed as violence even if there are no visible marks of injury.

She said in the judgment: “There is no reason in asserting that the circular is not law. In that regard hitting any child amounts to assault and an offence under Division five of the Crimes Act 2009.”

She said since Buluvakarua did not deny the assault, he had admittedly breached the law for which the ministry had a right to deal with him as its employee.

Justice Wati said: Corporal punishment in this country has always meant to include any physical punishment. Any form of beating including slapping a child amounts to physical punishment.

“I firmly believe that every school teacher knows this and that no one has insisted for a definition of the term corporal punishment since the issuance of the circular because it is common knowledge in this country that a teacher is not supposed to hit or assault a child in any form. Even the students or the children know of this rule. I am surprised that the plaintiff is not aware of what the term meant.”

“If the plaintiff was not sure of what amounts to corporal punishment, he ought to have that clarified because it was fundamental for him to acquire this knowledge for the performance of his duties according to his contract.

“One child experienced pain after being slapped and he suffered the consequences of the assault. The child underwent violence. The Constitution of Fiji guarantees a child’s right to be free from any form of mental and physical violence.”

Justice Wati said if permission was to be granted to school teachers to hit students, but not cause them injury, the teachers would always justify their acts by saying that they hit the child slowly and there were no injuries.

What may appear to be a simple slap to the teacher may be a very painful and sensitive issue for the child depending on the child’s age, health, mental status and the part of the body where the slap lands.

“How are the teachers expecting the state to stop this menace? Is the state expected to relinquish its duty to protect the citizens of this country and its duty as the upper guardian and parents of all children by allowing the children to be assaulted? Is the state expected to categorise what forms of violence are permitted on children? Is the state expected to sanction violence on children? Is this simple slapping good violence because it disciplines a child? Who is to assess that the slap has benefitted the child rather than causing him harm?

“The step that this country has taken to eradicate any form of violence on the children is in line with international standards and worthy of commendation.

Effect of any form of violence

“It is not only about physical injury that matters. The effect of any form of violence in school on a child by a teacher can last for years. A child can be emotionally disturbed due to the physical punishment. Not only the child who undergoes the punishment can be affected long term, but those who witness violence can also suffer the same. This tends to affect the work of the children and their relationship with teachers, adults and people in authority.

“In determining the rights of the employee, I must not forget that the best interest of the child is the primary consideration.

“If these sorts of actions of inflicting violence on children are not controlled strictly then the policy of the state to protect the children from all forms of violence will never be respected by anyone. The policy and the law needs judicial codification and strict adherence to it will only ensure progress.”

Teachers are well advised to take heed of Justice Wati’s remarks.

Feedback: nemani.delaibatiki@fijisun.com.fj

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