Judge says policy a step backwards

Supreme Court Justice Vui Clarence Nelson has described the Government’s decision to allow teachers to use “reasonable force” in schools as a step backward for Samoa.

Speaking in his capacity as a member of the U.N. Committee of the Rights of the Child, the judge said a government delegation had assured the U.N. in Geneva that corporal punishment had been abolished. 

“It’s recorded in our meetings that our (Samoa) delegation went to Geneva; and reported that corporal punishment will be abolished in Samoa and schools and they are working into dealing with families. Now we seem to be going backwards on what Samoa has promised to eliminate in the first place,” he said, while adding that he had to speak against it as a committee member.  

“This law is a retrograde step. We’re going backward. We were heading forward but now we’re going back and this law allows teachers to physically discipline their students in a reasonable manner based on their judgment.”

Amendments were introduced in the last Parliament session to allow the use of reasonable force with the Minister of Education, Sports and Culture, Loau Keneti Sio declaring: “There is a fine line between reasonable force and assault!”

Justice Vui said the Government cannot pretend that the new policy is not corporal punishment. 

“We are now giving a special license to teachers to use force on their students and to pretend this is not corporal punishment is fantasy and it’s just not true. It is a form of corporal punishment. This law is a retrograde step. We’re going back. We were heading forward but now were going back and this law allows teachers to physically discipline their students in a reasonable manner.” 

While the disciplining of students could end up in court if a teacher went overboard, Justice Vui said such cases do not end up in court unless the student is hospitalized.

In February this year police senior sergeant Samia Iosua Samia cautioned teachers saying ‘assault is assault’ and there is no other way to look at it. 

“The police do not tolerate nor condone this type of behavior against our children,” he said when addressing principals and teachers at a conference.

“This practice is prohibited under the Crimes Act. Although this was the general practice in the past where teachers hit students, this is now disallowed under the law. Under the Crimes Act assault it is defined as touching, raping, hitting, collaring, slapping, pushing, throwing an object and kicking,” he added.

The policeman said teachers should find other methods of disciplining students and have special skills such as ‘patience and love’ for students.

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