Muremba Judgement: Is Corporal Punishment Really Bad For Juveniles?

By John Gambanga

Last Friday, I read with trepidation the High Court declaration that corporal punishment or caning of children is now unconstitutional.

In her review ruling in a case involving a 15 year old juvenile accused of rape, Justice Esther Muremba  declared Section 353 sub section 1 of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act Chapter 907 invalid, in terms of section 167 sub section 3 and section 175 sub section 1 of the new constitution.

Of major concern to me is the effect this land mark ruling will have on the Zimbabwean society at large. My fear is that the law might lead to anarchy in schools and homes and spill over to society as a whole.  I foresee a future generation that will one day be very difficult to control or govern.

I conjure running battles between parents and their children and between school authorities and children. I don’t rule out a number of court cases pitting children against their authorities centred on the recent High Court ruling.

The law should not be over-protective of children. It should bring about sanity not offer unbridled freedom to juveniles whose minds are still tender and easily susceptible to negative influence.

In the United Kingdom, for instance, the law does not allow corporal punishment.  But Zimbabwe is different from the United Kingdom. We simply can’t pluck a leaf from the British statute books so that we are accepted as civilised by the so called developed world? For whose benefit, if I may ask?

We must revisit our own piece of legislation, taking into consideration our indigenous cultural values.

In the African and Zimbabwean culture, it is accepted that a child who does something very wrong should be spanked to deter him or her from doing it again. I don’t see anything wrong with the occasional spanking of kids, provided this does not cause injury to the body of the juvenile.

Experience has shown that some children will not change if rebuked by the word of mouth. There are many who have mended their wayward behaviour only after a thorough beating.

Already we have cases of some school kids who have adopted unruly behaviour – general disobedience, challenging authority, drug abuse, drunkenness, theft and robbery, prostitution and unwanted babies.

The consequences of such behaviour are easy to see. An increase of school drop outs, indolent and unemployable juveniles, the spread of the killer virus AIDS and a rise in juvenile crime.

The streets of Harare, Bulawayo, Mutare and Gweru are full of unemployed youths who indulge in all manner of obscene behaviour. Part of this stems from the challenge to authority by the juveniles.

Some of these juveniles develop into tyrants who bully their own parents and teachers. Is our society going to condone such behaviour behind the law?

The future leaders of this beautiful country, our own off spring will develop into social misfits who will do whatever they want at whatever cost and defy the law at every turn. Laws are made by man and at times laws should be amended, repealed or struck off from the statute books to suit new circumstances.

Corporal punishment has been used worldwide since human creation and in most cases it has proved an effective corrective measure for bad behaviour among kids and adolescents.

It has brought about discipline, but in extreme cases it has failed to do so as some juveniles are simply incorrigible. The older generation of Zimbabweans, those above 30 grew up in a society where corporal punishment was the norm. School prefects and teachers were allowed to administer corporal punishment.

Parents accepted it as they put the welfare of their children in the hands of the school authorities.To a greater extend, corporal punishment brings about the desired results- atonement and discipline.

Those like me who attended Catholic boarding schools were subjected to strict discipline. You were supposed to be in class, church or bed at a certain time; you had to be up at six am every day to attend mass; you had to comb your hair daily after a bath and at all times your shirt should be tucked  in and your shoes polished and shoe laces and belt tied up.

Such good behaviour and grooming was enforced by corporal punishment and no one raised a finger because it was in the best interest of the child.

If the 15 year old boy who raped another juvenile is not caned, what sort of punishment will deter him from repeating the beastly act? Community work?

I doubt that very much. He is likely going to brag that he is a super boy, the Zimbabwean Macavity who can defy the law.  And he will have many followers. The courts have set a precedent.

Our law makers should not simply copy and paste from the statute books of the West whose culture is different from ours.

I will rest my case with an appeal to lawmakers to consult widely on this important law, as it will determine the calibre of our future leaders.

Readers can turn to the book of Proverbs and read the following passages that talk about discipline:

Proverbs 12 vs 1; 19vs 18 and 23 vs 13


The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent those of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation