The law was introduced by the High Court early this year to stop teachers and corrective service officers canning students and prisoners. Now, the teachers want to once again be allowed to resort to the cane, arguing some tough discipline should be meted out to students who misbehave in schools.
TIRIMAN: The Fiji Human Rights Commission has reacted strongly to renewed calls by the Teacher's Association for the reintroduction of corporal punishment in the country's schools.
Early this year the High Court in Suva banned corporal punishment in schools and prisons following a successful application by the Fiji Human Rights Commission. At the time acting judge J.R. Prakesh said corporal punishment inflicted on both criminals and students was in breach of the country's constitution and it was unlawful.
The Teacher's Association says teachers should be allowed to use some form of punishment on students who misbehave in schools. But the director of Fiji's Human Rights Commission, Dr Shaista Shameem does not agree, saying anyone meteing out such punishment would be breaking the law.
SHAMEEM: At the moment you know that's what the situation, the legal position is. Now they could call for corporal punishment and encourage the teachers to keep on giving corporal punishment if they like - there's nothing to stop them from doing this. However, whether it's the teacher or the community groups or whatever they could do that, but the fact of the matter is that corporal punishment in schools has been outlawed by the courts. And so definitely from our position that corporal punishment is illegal in Fijian school and in prisons.
TIRIMAN: The Teacher's Association argues that with the support of students' parents, they want to see the return of the cane in order to discipline students who break school rules. The teachers believe this is the only way to ensure students grow up to be responsible citizens.
However, Dr Shameem says this reasoning is not good enough for the ban to be lifted.
SHAMEEM: You need to look at the way that different forms of discipline can be instituted in schools which involve counsellors and parents, consultations and so on. Certainly, we don't know what the problems are that students are facing, maybe a wide variety of problems like things that are rife in their families: maybe poverty, perhaps just uncertainty.
Fiji has gone through a huge crisis in 2000. There are whole lots of issues out there that need to be addressed, and if a student is misbehaving in class or is not listening to the teacher or the teacher has discipline problems, then we need to perhaps look at the issue of overcrowding in classrooms, we need to look at the kind of support mechanisms that are in place for teachers. We need to look at a whole host of things; we need some new educational policy. Corporal punishment is not the answer.
TIRIMAN: Dr Shameem adds that corporal punishment of any form is illegal under the United Nations International Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Fiji is signatory to.
SHAMEEM: The Rights of the Child Convention is very clear on corporal punishment, that it is not the way and is not in the best interests of the child. At the end of the day you have to look at tjat , you know Fiji has ratified the Rights of the Child Convention and it's a blatant breach of that convention to promote it where the court has already ruled that it's against the best interests of the child.
Certainly the Fijian Rights Commission will never be able to support an activity or an action that firstly is not in the best interests of the child as universally defined as international convention. And secondly, violence is not the answer to the problems that we face in schools, and that's not denying that we have any problems, you know we are quite conscious of the fact that teachers are put under great strain and a great deal of pressure. But I don't think anyone is convinced that corporal punishment is the answer to those problems.