A new report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) revealed that not less than 85 per cent of Nigerian children between the ages of one and 14 suffered violent discipline in schools. The report further showed that nearly one in three of the children experienced severe physical punishment. The frightening report on corporal punishment was disclosed in Abuja by the UNICEF Chief of Education, Saadhna Panday-Soobrayan, during the recent “National Awareness Creation Meeting on Ending Corporal Punishment in Schools. The timely event was organised by the Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria in conjunction with UNICEF.

According to Panday-Soobrayan, “much of this violent discipline takes place in the form of corporal punishment in the very institutions that are entrusted to keep children safe, develop respect for human rights and prepare them for life in a society that promotes understanding, peace, and conflict resolution through dialogue.” The Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, who spoke through a representative, supported the new roadmap to end corporal punishment in Nigerian schools in line with the provisions of the Child’s Right Act to protect children’s rights, including the right to a life free from violence. Globally, half of students aged 13-15, about 150 million, report experiencing peer-to-peer violence in and around school. It has also been reported that more than one in three students between the ages of 13 and 15 experience bullying, and about the same proportion are involved in physical fights in schools across the world.

According to UNICEF, about 720 million school-aged children live in countries where they are not fully protected by law from corporal punishment at school. And between 2005 and 2020, the United Nations verified more than 13,900 incidents of attacks, including direct attacks or attacks where there has not been adequate distinction between civilian and military objectives, on educational and medical facilities and protected persons, including pupils and hospitalised children.

In Nigeria, over 30 per cent of Nigerian children have suffered physical violence from their parents or teachers. Since it cut across all the six geo-political zones, efforts should be geared towards eliminating it. Aside from inducing fears in children, it makes them to loath schooling and learning. It can make children perform poorly in school. Early this year, a 19-month-old pre-nursery pupil of a private school in Asaba, Delta State, Obina Udeze, died after being flogged by a teacher. In 2019, a four-year-old girl, Testimony Joke Babalola, was flogged to death in Akure, Ondo State, in an attempt to exorcise demons from her. In the same year, a housewife in the same state assaulted her two-year-old daughter with a stirring rod over her inability to recite numerals. The abuse of corporal punishment is rife in many schools in Nigeria. That is why the government, the schools and parents must work in concert to eliminate corporal punishment in schools through the enactment of adequate laws to check the menace. UNICEF is working with governments, schools, teachers, families, children and young people to protect children from violence in school. The vision of the UN agency is to ensure that every child has the right to go to school and learn, free from fear and violence. The global agency believes that “when schools provide quality, inclusive and safe education, children can learn, build friendships and gain the critical skills they need to navigate social situations.”

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Unfortunately for many girls and boys the world over, school is where they experience violence, including bullying, harassment, verbal abuse, sexual abuse and exploitation, corporal punishment and other forms of humiliation from a peer, a teacher or even the school authority. Corporal punishment can also include spanking, slapping, pinching, pulling, twisting, and hitting the victim with an object. Others include forcing a child to consume unpleasant substances, such as hot pepper. In order to reduce violent discipline in Nigerian schools, state governments should start implementing the Child’s Right Act. In addition, there is need for laws prohibiting corporal punishment and other forms of violence in schools. Let them come up with codes of conduct and other safeguarding measures in all Nigerian schools.

There is also the need to set up confidential and safe reporting mechanisms in schools. We call on the government to establish a referral mechanism for response services, and monitor and collect data on violence in schools. It has become imperative that teachers and school staff must be trained on positive discipline, classroom management and peaceful conflict resolution.

Since corporal punishment is still allowed in Nigeria, there is need to review aspects of our laws that permit the practice in particular Article 295 of the Criminal Code (South), and article 55 of the Penal Code (North) and others as a means of correcting their children and wards. In place of corporal punishment, there are other non-violent and positive ways to instill discipline in the child which the schools should adopt.