Ombudsman stands firm against “reasonable force”

By Sapeer Mayron 16 February 2019, 12:00AM

The Office of the Ombudsman and Samoa’s National Human Rights Institution is standing by a July 2018 submission made against the inclusion of “reasonable force” in the Education Amendment Act 2019.

The amendment, which was approved by Parliament on January 31, 2019 includes an amendment to Section 23, which allows a teacher to use reasonable force on a child to prevent them from harming others or themselves.

But as the amendment was being prepared, the Ombudsman wrote firmly against it, beginning with pointing out that it is not aware of “any official effort to examine the problem of violence in schools.”

NHRI Samoa is therefore surprised that, out of the blue, there is now intention via the Education Amendment Bill 2018 to drastically reverse the direction this country has been taking,” the submission states.

It also spells out the “undeniably negative” impact of corporal punishment, with a list of statistics about the US states which allow it.

“Of the states with the ten highest murder rates, eight allow corporal punishment; of the ten states with the highest prison population, nine allow corporal punishment,” begins the list, with several other similar examples following.

“Allowing corporal punishment in schools creates the same negative impact on society as family violence and permits violence to creep into homes,” the submission states.

At the time, Ombudsman Maiava Iulai Toma wrote to please defer the decision on corporal punishment and reasonable force until the Samoa National Inquiry into Family Violence was released in September 2018.

The report is a deep dive into the social, economic and political worlds of Samoa and their influence on the growing problem of family violence. 

It recommends Samoa removes section 14 of the Infants Ordinance 1961, which “allows parents to administer ‘reasonable punishment’,” the report explains.

“This lack of clarity means that there will inevitably be parents who think they are simply disciplining their children when it should really be classified as violence.”

The inclusion of allowing “reasonable force” by teachers moves to match the Education Act with the Infants Ordinance, rather than remove the section from the Infants Ordinance as recommended by  the NHRI inquiry.

It also recommended eventually moving to banning corporal punishment and harsh verbal punishment in the homes, and to actually strengthen the ban on corporal punishment in schools – not weaken it.

The move to allow teachers to use reasonable force stems from a desire to curb violence between students, the inquiry explains.

The guidelines in the legislation clearly state when using reasonable force is acceptable: “when preventing or minimising harm to the child or another person preventing the child from engaging or continuing to engage in conduct that amounts to a criminal offence; or preventing the child from engaging or continuing to engage in threatening, offensive or disruptive behaviour.”

Using an object to impose force is not considered reasonable and is a crime, under the Crimes Act 2013.

The amendment itself is “despite” a subsection of the Education Act 2009, which states that the compulsory discipline policies of schools and early childhood centres must not include corporal punishment or any punishment which causes harm, or is intended to humiliate the recipient.

But Maiava and the NHRI do not believe allowing teachers the right of reasonable force will curb any inter-student violence. 

In advice submitted to Cabinet in 2016, the NHRI wrote that student fights are issues with “complex foundations.”

“Certainly, it cannot be reasonably attributed to Government’s relevant prohibition of corporal punishment in schools,” Maiava said.

In 2016 and again in 2018, the NHRI pleads for the root causes of students acting violently to be interrogated, and addressed, and for counselling and rehabilitation to become more mainstream.

“Rather than empowering teachers to reinforce violence by injecting more violence into the lives of children, we should be making a concerted effort to reverse the reality of violence we are breeding into future generations of Samoa.

“We should be asking ourselves why it is that our children are going to school and conducting themselves in undesired violent manner. Our children are the product of our homes.” 

By Sapeer Mayron 16 February 2019, 12:00AM

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