NEWS that the High Court has outlawed corporal punishment left many people shell-shocked, with murmurs of disapproval reverberating in social discourse. The shock judgment on the 16th of January hit conservatives squarely between the eyes and many are still battling to come to terms with the unanticipated reality. To think that this unforeseen development comes in the wake of school authorities and parents grappling with serious delinquent behavior is quite dispiriting.

As it stands, schools are awash with cases of incorrigible school die-hards who defy authority at every turn. Last year witnessed not one but two incidences of high school students engaging in sexual orgies and so-called ‘nude parties.’ Drug abuse and unwanted pregnancies are consequences the society haggles with every day and surely to do away with corporal punishment deserves to be put under the microscope. It befuddles the mind how we expect to implant self-discipline and restraint when we have school children who know that they can blatantly disregard authority and get away with a counseling session.

This ruling came at the review of the case of a 15-year old juvenile who was accused of rape. In this light, Justice Esther Muremba nullified Section 353 sub section 1 of The Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act (CPE). The constitution being the supreme law of the land, and drawing from Section 175 subsection 1, renders the statute invalid; no more can a child be physically disciplined. A child, now, can only be rehabilitated.

Now, this scenario should sends shivers down the spines of farsighted people. Questions naturally arise; will this cultivate a disciplined and orderly society? Will it build children into the obedient people that we all want? What is the effect of this ruling for posterity? Honestly, there are serious doubts whether this scenario brings forth the refined and responsible citizens we yearn for.

Is it not ironical that the law itself, drawing from behavioural sciences, operates on the premise that punishment is an established mechanism to correct behavior? Essentially, the main purpose of the law is to prevent socially intolerable conduct or, at least, to hold unacceptable conduct within socially acceptable limits. By threatening punishment, the law tries to suppress anti-social conduct likely to disrupt society. This is the ground upon which law is built. So it naturally follows that lack of punishment fosters the very mutinous and rebellious conduct we seek to curb as a society.

Traditionally, we are all fully aware that had it not been for the stick, most of us would not have grown into the socially responsible adults that we became. Most people confirm that they owe their discipline to the stick. Corporal punishment dates back to time immemorial and has been readily used to usefully correct deviant behaviour.

It would be wrong of us to try and draw from the West where corporal punishment is outlawed because our value systems and perceptions are poles apart. I am yet to see, whether, from a traditional or religious perspective, the good that is to be derived from not disciplining children. Penalizing children helps their minds to construct a sturdy sense of right and wrong. Having attended an Anglican School, I am fully aware of the coercive influence and rehabilitative power of corporal punishment. It brings about order and penance.

There is a lot to learn when watching how dogs are trained. It’s a simple truth which applies to both man and animals: behaviour that is rewarded will be repeated and wrong behaviour that is not punished will also be reinforced. That a juvenile who rapes a toddler can only be talked to does not, in the slightest, deter or help him to appreciate the wrongfulness of his actions. The banning of corporal punishment militates heavily against the advancement of good morals.

The Bible, is not silent on the matter, but is unequivocal:

“Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod he will not die”(Proverbs 23)
“Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid”(proverbs 12:1).
“Discipline your son, for there is hope; do not set your heart on putting him to death”(proverbs 19:18)

Indeed by sparing the road we spoil the child; we may actually be setting the wrong precedent and breeding outlaws who will brag about transgressions. As I wrap up, it does not matter which angle you look at it from – cultural, traditional or religious – the outcome is the same: abolishing discipline spoils children. True love should safeguard and protect and not harm.