Corporal punishment in schools: No spanks! | Sunday Observer

Corporal punishment in schools: No spanks!

25 March, 2018
Corporal punishment is considered a cruel and archaic child disciplinary method and is an outlawed practice in Sri Lankan public schools, but rights activists and educationists express concern that the practice still lingers in some international schools that are not regulated by the Ministry of Education. One mother whose daughter was corporally punished is turning her family’s adversity into advocacy, to help other parents and children find justice. 

Back in the day, ‘caning’ or ‘belting’ students was considered the disciplinary norm in educational institutes. “Spare the rod and spoil the child” was a commonly touted adage and it was widely believed that naughty children had to be corporally disciplined in order to ‘help’ them to grow up to be better members of society.

But, these are archaic notions, no longer tolerated in a civilized society of rights-based values. Research has found that what children really learn from corporal punishment is not necessarily the lesson educators think they are teaching. Instead, children learn that hitting or other forms of violence is an acceptable way to deal with situations and that big people can hit smaller people and get away with it.

As calls grow louder for responsible nation states to uphold and protect the rights of the child, the idea of corporal punishment grows more repugnant and has over time been outlawed in local schools regulated by the Ministry of Education. The Ministry however, can impose no such controls over international schools, most of which are incorporated under the Companies Act.

This is where our story begins.

Dr Tush Wickremanayake is a mother whose child faced corporal punishment at the hands of a teacher at the international school she attends. The experience caused terrible emotional turmoil for both mother and daughter, as they took their complaint from Government agency to agency for redress and suitable action against the school over the conduct of its teaching staff. Dr. Wickremanayake’s journey has taken her from the Police to the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA), and now finally, her complaint is before the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL). The HRCSL will investigate the complaint and adjudicate on the matter. Its findings and recommendations will be made public.

Traumatic experience

In the meantime, Dr Wickremanayake, a physician by profession, has found a way to turn adversity into advocacy. “My daughter had been punished for the human error of forgetting,” reveals Dr. Wickremanayake whose two children attend a leading international school. Wickremanayake had been appalled to learn about corporal punishment happening in the country, especially, in international schools. “In such a large and respected school, do these things actually happen? The answer is - yes,” she explains

Now Dr Wickremanayake is looking for ways to ensure that justice is served, not only for her own child but also for those who may have undergone similar experiences.

“I want justice for all of them. I want the police to identify that there is a law. They need to have officers who will uphold the law. I want politicians to understand they need to speak on our behalf. Everyone starts speaking when a teacher kneels down. So, why not when a child is made to kneel?” the aggrieved mother complained during an interview with the Sunday Observer last week.

Since her daughter’s traumatic experience, Dr Wickremanayake has established Stop Child Cruelty (SCC) an organization with the mission to end child cruelty and corporal punishment in the country.

“Child cruelty, child abuse and child maltreatment are interchangeable. Child cruelty can take many forms. An innocent child, who cannot defend self, who doesn’t have a voice or the strength to shout out, experiences the worst form of cruelty. Abuse and bullying can be emotional or physical. Parents, adults and other children can all abuse or bully. This has to stop,” notes the SCC mission statement. Stopping corporal punishment in all schools by empowering students and educating teachers is the organisation’s objective.

Psychological cruelty

Meanwhile, the National Child Protection Agency (NCPA) the leading authority with the mandate of protecting children in the country, recently issued a statement requesting the public to inform them of any abuse or cruelty happening in a care-giving setting, including schools. Out of 1,532 cases which the NCPA had started investigating, the highest 364 were physical and psychological cruelty towards children, they noted.

Time and again, educational and psychosocial research has revealed that lasting behavioural changes cannot be achieved by punishment.

Over the years, the Educational authorities that administer local schools have taken measures to end corporal punishment in the Sri Lankan school system.

Punishment using force in schools is prohibited by a number of circulars (No. 2001/11 and No. 2005/17) issued by the Ministry of Education.

The country’s position on corporal punishment and cruelty towards children, especially, in a care-giving and educational setting is strengthened by Education Ministry Circular 2016/12 dated 29/4/2016, which outlaws physical punishment and outlines positive forms of disciplinary measures, including limiting privileges enjoyed by the child, advising children and involving parents and guardians in the disciplinary process. However, child rights activists and education experts warn that international schools categorized as ‘education investments’ by the Board of Investment, are established under the Companies Act, and operate as business entities. Therefore, they do not come under the ambit of the Ministry of Education, and are not bound by its directives on corporal punishment or any other issue.

On hold

There is no body to regulate or monitor international schools, reiterates Director of Education, Private Schools Branch of the Ministry of Education, P.M. Salahudeen. The Ministry of Education does not have regulatory power over international schools, Salahudeen told the Sunday Observer in a telephone interview.

He explained that the private schools in Sri Lanka fall into two categories, namely, those established before 1961 and after. Eighty schools registered as ‘Approved Private Schools’ are monitored and regulated by the Ministry of Education.

“The International Schools are the ones that were established after the 1980s. International Schools were established for the foreign children in Sri Lanka at the Katunayake and Biyagama Free Trade Zone. Currently, International Schools are opened and registered under the Board of Investment (BOI) Act as business organizations,” Salahudeen explained.

The Ministry official said, in 2001, a Bill was introduced in Parliament to amend the 1961 Act to allow international schools to be regulated by the Ministry of Education. However, Salahudeen revealed that the Bill was never enacted into law due to severe opposition in the House and remains on hold, to this day. Meanwhile, Asqin Haq Cassim, an experienced teacher in an International School in Kandy said, while the school was not being regulated by the Ministry of Education, it had its own management which was accountable.

“A circular on corporal punishment was sent to government schools and also, it was announced in the media. As international schools, we do not have a separate circular, instead, we follow the common circular. The Principals and the teachers are aware about it and they follow it,” Cassim toldthe Sunday Observer. He added that children were now more aware of their rights.

Education Ministry Official Salahudeen said, despite the challenges, the Ministry of Education was still doing everything it could to regulate international schools in any way possible.

“Nevertheless, in the end, they are all Sri Lankan children. It is our duty to ensure the quality of education for all children in the country,” the official asserted. 

Get help!

Dr. Tush Wickremanayake’s organization ‘Stop Child Cruelty’ can be contacted by telephone on 0779497265 or by email: [email protected]

National Child Protection Authority hotline 1929 can be dialled from any telephone service provider and is available 24 hours. The NCPA hotline operates in all three languages, English, Sinhalese and Tamil.


The assumption by the authors of the Sunday Observer article that "the practice still lingers in some international schools that are not regulated by the Ministry of Education" is far from accurate or realistic. It probably is very much alive in most schools in Sri Lanka. While thanking the authors for this article, I suggest they have a look at the open letter to parent of Royal Primary School by an old boy Mr Padmasena Dissanayake, and do more research into this degrading and criminal practice and expose the perpetrators.