The hope, when 10-year-old Jonathan enrolled in primary school six years ago, was that his only obstacle would be ignorance.
In fact, Jonathan’s parents were afraid that, if their third-born son missed out on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go to school, they would become the laughing stock of the village. They had seen some children, in the area of Sub-Traditional Authority Govati, Mwanza, drop out of school for reasons ranging from lack of funds to the pressing need for children to be rearing livestock in an area also known for pastoral activities.
It was, therefore, a memorable day when Jonathan enrolled in school six years ago, becoming the second child in the family to go to school. Jonathan is the second-born in a family of three. The third-born was born as recently as two years ago.
However, their investment in the education of their son seems to be facing a challenge from an unlikely source: teachers. Yes, the very teachers who are supposed to be in the forefront of efforts aimed to promote access to education in the country.
As children in the country continue to face challenges in the education sector, corporal punishment has been highlighted as another setback to efforts aimed at increasing the number of children who enroll in primary school.
Speaking during the closure of a two-day Second Session of Children Parliament in Mwanza District, stakeholders said the development is contributing to cases of school dropout in the district.
During deliberations, almost every representative in the house highlighted the existence of corporal punishment in schools they come from.
Despite the vice being discouraged in policy documents as well as the Constitution of Malawi, which forbids corporal punishment in general terms, the children decry that most of the teachers involved in the tendency are not disciplined.
Some children say some teachers are fond of corporal punishment, which they regard as the only remedy to poor performance and bad behaviour among learners.
Speaker of children’s parliament in Mwanza District, Victoria Ganamba, says a number of children suffer silently due to severe punishment some of the teachers mete out to learners.
Victoria says this is negatively affecting efforts to promote access to education as some learners opt to drop out of school, instead of enduring endless beatings and other forms of punishment.
“Through the session, children have been able to discuss issues such as child marriage which are on the increase in the district. The issue of corporal punishments came out clearly during the deliberations. For instance, we have heard that some children were being given punishments such as being asked to dig a pit latrine which is unrealistic for a child. The problem is that the laws are there to protect children but enforcement remains a challenge,” Ganamba said.
Malawi is party to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child and article 12 of the agreement provides for participation and right to have opinions which should not be dismissed on the grounds of age.
Commenting on the issue, Director of Child Affairs in the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare, McKnight Kalanda, says the government is committed to working on the problems children face.
“The children are raising very pertinent issues, including that of corporal punishment. This is one of the issues which were raised in Geneva, Switzerland. Although the Constitution prohibits corporal punishment, we still have some challenges. We really need to tighten the legislation to protect our children. You may also wish to know that we have a task to harmonise the child-related laws with the new provisions in the Constitution,” Kalanda says.
Currently, about 50 percent of girls in the country get married before reaching the age of 18, according to government statistics.
On this, Kalanda says Malawians should work together. He says, if left unchecked, the situation, could “greatly contribute to poverty in the country”.
He says the country should also join hands in dealing with issues such as those of child marriages in order to foster development.
“We need to improve [the provision of] services in the education sector. But I should also mention that parents have to be engaged to fully protect their children from dropping out of school,” Kalanda says.
At the moment, Children’s parliament is one of the interventions being put in place to deal with a number of issues affecting children in the country. It is being done at district level, which is a shift from the norm as, previously, the arrangement was that it was being held at national level.
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