Friday, July 14, 2017

Ending School Floggings: As Important In Barbados Now As Managing Its Debt

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During our recent holiday in Barbados the topic du jour (every day) was school flogging and why it needs to be banned , given the island was a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1990).   Incredibly - or maybe not - this topic even trumped the ongoing, deplorable Barbados bond position and its growing debt.

Among the most cogent appeals to treaty faithfulness we saw was the following editorial in The Barbados Advocate.

As articulated therein:

"As appears to be the national practice, we seemed blissfully unaware of the precise nature of the obligations we had ratified and thus there is an air of resentment every time we are reminded that the local practice if corporal punishment is out of step with the norms of the Convention."

Ending with:

"We acknowledge that the immediate likelihood of Barbados reforming its laws to proscribe the corporal punishment of children in the school and at hone is at best slight. We are not a people easily given to change and a withdrawal from the treaty at this stage would be a national embarrassment. Hence, for the foreseeable future we will continue to be scofflaws to our international obligation..."

Perhaps it's useful to reflect what conditions were in Bim's secondary schools when I arrived in Peace Corps in 1971 to teach at a country school in the (northernmost)  St. Lucy parish. What shocked me to the core - and the three other PCVs based there -was how every morning a long line of students (many females) were lined up in front of the headmaster's office. When I asked one of the Bajan teachers what this was all about she was basically nonchalant: "This is Mr. Jordan's flogging assembly. Each lines up and each gets five to seven lashes on the back."  Of course, our eyes literally popped out of our heads.

About seven years later at another secondary school near the Garrison  Savannah, the headmistress - a Miss Hunt - was regarded in awe and fear by the students. PCVs based there related how when she paddled or flogged a student you could hear his or her screams across the whole school grounds.   The word out was she never gave less than ten strokes and each one was more merciless than the last.

It was these sort of incidents, often recurring, that led the island to be a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

And yet, as the NATION editorial puts it, the signing has still not eradicated the practice in the schools. Indeed, not long after the editorial was published an indignant woman wrote to the press under the header 'Spare the rod? NO!' quoting the biblical passage from Proverbs 13: 24:

"Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them. ."

Then arguing forcefully that a good thrashing shows love and to ignore the application of the "rod" is to perform a disservice to the child later.  There were many furious replies objecting to this nonsense, but the arguments of Ms. Faith Marshall-Harris that came before ('The Goal is to end all Flogging') were among the most cogent and convincing.

In her lengthy piece, Ms. Marshall-Harris not only reviewed  the several principles embraced by the Barbados delegation to the 74th session of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, but also presented insights into the Swedish model.

In introducing this model, Ms. Marshall-Harris  writes:

"It was our (Barbados delegation) view that Barbados needs to evolve on this matter and I have proposed the use of the Swedish model to get us to the desired objective."


"The Swedish model programme was started by first teaching mothers-to-be how to discipline children when they attended prenatal clinics.  Young parents were similarly taught on the maternity wards. Community workers were sent into the homes to continue the teaching process after the mother and baby went home. All this was to reduce the incidence of corporal punishment in the homes.

In the meantime, corporal punishment was banned outright in the schools. Thus there was a two-pronged approach."

While Barbados can hope to emulate Sweden based on this template, one must bear in mind the economic quality of life also enters into how people conduct themselves.  In this regard Sweden's economic indices weight far higher than Barbados' which already has seen another bond downgrade (by Moody's)  to Caaa3+.   We beheld many poor people (the most likely to flog children at home) struggling to buy even basic goods (bread, milk, eggs)  at the supermarkets, and now higher prices and taxes soon to come with release of the new budget May 30, see e.g.

Oddly, it may take the island nation getting its economic house in order before the flogging problems can finally be resolved.  Why? Because social workers' stats disclose financial angst,  mounting debt and insecurity play a major role in fueling rage - along with an entrenched sense of helplessness to improve one's station. Children are often the victims of this sordid saga.

Addendum: About Faith Marshall-Harris:

She was a consultant hired by the Barbados government to review all the laws relating to women, children and their families.  At  the 74th session of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child she presented a White Paper that not only reviewed 37 Acts but also made 126 proposals, some of which have already taken effect.

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