By Orville Williams
The government has been reminded of its obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, amid the discourse about corporal punishment in the nation’s schools.
Since two young students were badly beaten by teachers in recent weeks, the issue has largely dominated social commentary, with several arguments both for and against its abolition.
The Cabinet had previously announced its intention to engage with all involved – teachers, parents, clergy, legislators, etc. – before a final decision is made, but it appears to have gotten a bit of prodding this week.
According to Cabinet Spokesperson, Information Minister Melford Nicholas, the body was visited by Magistrate Ngaio Emanuel-Edwards during its weekly meeting on Wednesday, to speak on the pressing issue.
As Chair of the Child Justice Board, Nicholas said the magistrate identified some inconsistencies in the nation’s current laws, including its obligations under one particular international agreement.
“Some of the issues that she would have raised indicate that whereas Antigua – since 1989 – is a co-signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and whereas we have allowed this convention to pass through the parliament, it has the effect of law.
“She has [also] pointed out that there are several discrepancies in the laws that are on the books and the regulations that are operating within the school system. For example, the Education Act, which provides for a degree of corporal punishment, is in conflict with the Child Justice Act [which outlaws corporal punishment] and of course with the [previously mentioned] convention.”
Nicholas reiterated the government’s intention to discuss the matter publicly, admitting that there was still no consensus within the Cabinet on the abolition or continuance of corporal punishment in schools.
The magistrate advised the body however, that, “if the matter entered the court, the magistracy and the judiciary will have no choice but to look at the law and to make their determinations from there”.
The issue of corporal punishment in homes was also raised by Magistrate Emanuel-Edwards during the Cabinet meeting. According to Nicholas, she noted that there was no distinction between the action in schools and in the homes, both on her part and on the part of the UN convention.
With no clear guidelines available, he assured that the latter issue will form part of the public discussions toward a thorough, inclusive conclusion.