Corporal Punishment1377 09 Aug, 2012
Minister of Education [Ms. Manickchand]: Thank you Mdm. Deputy Speaker. We seek here to speak to a motion that seeks to determine issues that are very sensitive, not only in Guyana but across the world. We have seen on television and in various newspapers and magazines how strongly people feel on these issues. Our own Guyanese people are no different. The motion that we bring here today is for consideration so that we could consider the three issues that we seek to determine one way or the other as a nation: corporal punishment, whether we are going to abolish it or retain it; whether we are going to give to all persons irrespective of sexual orientation the same rights or if we are going to say certain genders are entitled to more rights than some; and whether we are going to continue to hang persons who are convicted or if we are going to change our course of action. These are matters we have to determine.
I would caution from the beginning that we recognise the sensitivity of these issues and not determine, one way or the other, or judge people one way or the other. In my own home, we hold diametrically opposed views on some of these issues and we are all relatively good people in there. My mother has a view on corporal punishment; I do not share that view. My brother has a view on gay rights or whether we are going to decriminalise homosexual activity; I do not share that view. And we are all good people. I would caution that we do not determine people who do not hold our views, whatever those views are in this Parliament, as backward or regressive. I heard that today and it is important that we do not because we are committing this motion to a select committee and it is we here who will sit at that select committee. I believe the intention is to invite all of Guyana, whether individuals belong to a formal organisation like a church or society or whether he or she is wearing a rubber slipper on the road, whether the individual is a coconut vender at Bourda Market or a teacher, to come in here and tell us how he or she feels. I believe it is our duty as lawmakers to hear those views and to consider those views irrespective of how we feel on the issue personally. We must listen to our people and it would be arrogant and conceited of us to determine that because people we are listening to, people we have invited to come and give their views, do not share our view that they are backward as I heard earlier or they must be hauled out of this cave that they are living in. We have to be careful with that because we are duty bound not only to listen to those views in an artificial way but to listen to those views and heed those views. It may well say to us, in listening to the views, that we have to do a lot more work amongst our people from the bottom up rather than, on these issues, lead from the top down.
The Ministry of Education has been engaged in national consultations over the last few months and has heard varying views on the issue of corporal punishment. We have heard from teachers. We have heard from parents. We have heard from students. We have heard from community members. We have heard from a wide variety of persons and the views are mixed. A good example of how our society is divided on this issue can be evidenced from a television programme that I hosted that had on it as members of the panel from the Red Thread, Karen De Souza; from the Alliance For Change, Dominic Gaskin; as a representative of teachers in this country, Jennifer Cumberbatch, a teacher of great repute; and Comrade Amna Ally was invited, but did not come so I am glad we heard from her tonight. On that programme alone, Karen De Souza from Red Thread was against any form of corporal punishment in the school and put forward cogent arguments about why we must not continue beating our children as a form of discipline in the school. Dominic Gaskin had views that had me dumbstruck for a little bit. He believed that we must distinguish corporal punishment, which is the infliction of licks, and we must not be guided on this issue by the abuse of children and the abuse of corporal punishment that we have seen that become very sensational. He also held a very interesting view and that was that boys – and he gave examples of his own family and this is a very reasonable Guyanese, upstanding citizen – have to be disciplined differently from girls and that we could not possibly removing, without more, because of the call of various countries or groups, corporal punishment without discussing this further. And Jennifer Cumberbatch, the most reasonable and very dedicated teacher, one of the most dedicated teachers I have met, is a head teacher and she said, “I do not use this much, but this is a necessary tool to have at our disposal.” She too pled that we not mix up corporal punishment with abuse of children. This is just one panel and this is what we have got.
We have gone to Regions No. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 10 thus far and we continue with these consultations, and these are the kinds of views we are hearing. I do not think it will be any different for us in this National Assembly. I think we are duty bound to not only commit this to the select committee but to ensure that the atmosphere at that committee is one that allows for persons, irrespective of how they are dressed or how they speak and irrespective of whether or not their views match ours. We have to make sure the atmosphere there allows everyone to come in and offer their view without feeling as though they are backward or without feeling as though their view is wrong. I am suspecting that as a select committee we are going to determine the way forward in more ways than one, not necessarily only whether we abolish corporal punishment or keep it, whether we decriminalise homosexual activity or we leave it on the books as a criminal activity, or whether we abolish the punishment of hanging or we keep it on the books. We may go further and we may decide as a nation how it is we are going to get to the next level where all our people can feel themselves to be listened to and heard. It is important too that we note that we are allowed this privilege.
I heard earlier also and I have seen letters written that say we have signed Conventions and because we have signed those Conventions we are now bound to do everything these Conventions prescribe. As you know, Mdm. Deputy Speaker, our supreme law in Guyana is the Constitution and Article 154A (1) of the Constitution provides:
“Subject to paragraphs 3 and 6, every person, as contemplated by the respective international treaties set out in the Fourth Schedule to which Guyana has acceded is entitled to the human rights enshrined in the said international treaties,...”
Those Conventions mentioned are the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Convention Against Torture and Other Inhuman or Degrading Treatment of Punishment, the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women.”
That same Article 154A goes on to specifically say that:
“...such rights [in these Conventions] shall be respected and upheld by the executive, legislature, judiciary and all organs and agencies of Government and, where applicable to them, by all natural and legal persons and shall be enforceable in the manner hereinafter prescribed.”
Subparagraph 3 specifically says:
“The State shall, having regard to the socio-cultural level of development of the society, take reasonable legislative and other measures within its available resources to achieve the progressive realisation of the rights provided for in paragraph (1).”
Our supreme law allows us and, in fact, mandates us to listen to our people and hear them when we, in this House, make laws. So while we should be guided by the international treaties that we have signed, and I would concede without reservation, our own law by which we are bound, the supreme law of this dear land, says that we must pay attention to the socio-cultural attitudes in our country and the only way we can do that is if we do what the Hon. Prime Minister, Leader of this House, proposes to do and that is to go to a select committee and invite persons to come to hearings where we will indeed hear them and heed them in the making of our decisions on these three important issues.
I commend the motion to a select committee. I support the Prime Minister’s motion as well as his proposition to send the motion to a special select committee.
I thank you Mdm. Deputy Speaker. [Applause]
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