EDITORIAL: Ignoring our Treaty obligations
“States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.” – Article 19(1) – Convention on the Rights of the Child (1990)
There are some issues that frequently arise in local public discourse that are never resolved thereby but simply fret their hour upon the public stage and then fade away, only to re-emerge at some future date through a media report or some other information. Common examples are the appropriateness and efficacy of the death penalty in modern-day Barbados, the contemporary relevance and utility of the Common Entrance Examination as a mode of transferring children into local secondary schools and the consonance of the current location of the Lord Nelson statue with the existing national ethos.
Another such is the issue of corporal punishment of children at schools and in the home. There was once a time when there could be no dispute about this phenomenon; a time when such punishment formed an indispensable part of the armoury of the schoolteacher to correct the behavioural and scholastic errancy of their pupils. Likewise, parents then generally regarded the unregulated corporal punishment of their children for misconduct to be a fundamental right.
However in 1990, Barbados, in the exercise of its sovereign treaty-making power, voluntarily ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child without reservation and thereby undertook to be bound by its provisions and further, to submit, at stipulated periods, to the Committee established under the Convention, reports on the measures it had taken to give effect to the rights recognised there and on the progress made on the enjoyment of those rights. The obligation stated in the epigraph was also assented to, despite its inconsistency with our cultural ethos.
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 of corporal punishment is out of step with the norms of the Convention.
Had we sought to follow the established tradition of submitting our ratified treaty obligations to the consideration of the competent authority (Parliament) and opened the matter for public discussion, the Executive might have been forced to rethink its commitment to the principles of the Convention.
As it is however, we have agreed internationally to the removal of corporal punishment from our laws and we are forced each time that there is an adverse report on the state of our law by the Committee to engage in the sophistry that corporal punishment is not physical violence, that it is done in love and that it should remain as an option available to teachers when all else fails.
According to a news report, Barbados has been lauded for the significant progress it has made in the areas of child health and education. Yet, these are part only of the treaty obligations the State has undertaken to its children.
We acknowledge that the immediate likelihood of Barbados reforming its laws to proscribe the corporal punishment of children in the school and at home 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 and the Committee will continue to insist that we “explicitly prohibit in legislation corporal punishment in all settings”.