How law can control school punishment

Ebbie Noelle Samuels who died in a school dormitory three years ago.

Photo credit: Courtesy

Harrowing incidents of children dying on the premises of various learning institutions are slowly rising. Boarding schools are notorious for these kinds of cases, where learners end up dead with very little or no investigation being done, yet Article 53 of Kenya’s Constitution specifically mentions child protection from “abuse, all forms of violence and inhuman treatment and punishment”.

The Children’s Act (CAP 141) further gives the government the mandate of ensuring each child’s survival, alongside that of the child’s family, and also protecting all children from physical and psychological abuse.

The death of Ebbie Noelle Samuels while at school, which is yet to be solved three years later is, sadly, one of many featuring corporal punishment gone horribly wrong. Ebbie’s mother’s public statements and grief call to mind the parents of many other young ones who were injured or died in unclear circumstances in schools. There are several steps that can be taken with regard to the way forward in the matter of school punishment.

First, the National Council for Children’s Services must speak up and make a resounding statement against corporal punishment in schools, as it is well within their mandate to do as government-sanctioned overseers of child welfare. They must also offer schools guidance with regard to coming up with schedules of accepted punishments within the realm of the law, as stated by the Chief Justice.

Emotional abuse

Secondly, there must be wider conversations at all levels of society on cultural shifts in engagement with minors. The attitude globally towards children has changed from colonial, religiously sanctioned violence, especially towards African children, to more evidence-informed ways to centre the best interests of the child without using physical or emotional abuse or force. Many beat children because they do not know what else to do, and related learnings and insights to change these actions must move beyond the realm of trained individuals alone. The media must amplify this kind of education and reflection.

Thirdly, action must be taken against institutions that harbour or protect abusers of children.

Churches, schools, community agencies and workplaces often enable abusers to get away with their crimes, yet they claim to exist for the good of the young. They must be held accountable for this.

More than 40 per cent of Kenyans are aged under 15, with another significant number aged 16 and 17. This means a large percentage of Kenyans is yet to attain the majority age. 

It is thus high time the Judiciary, the Children’s Services Council and the wider society prioritised efforts to ensure that Kenyan children are not harmed and abused as they grow and develop, whether in school or elsewhere, and accord justice to all families whose children have been wrongfully taken from them.

Ms Okore is a policy analyst. [email protected]

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