Corporal punishment persists in Ugandan schools despite it being outlawed in the Penal Code Act in 2007. In 2015, the Ministry of Education and Sports issued a policy directing school authorities to stop caning pupils and students. In effect, any corporal punishment or any action that inflicts any kind of injury on the human body was prohibited in all institutions of learning.
In February there was outrage after three videos showing two female students being caned in front of their peers circulated on social media. More videos showing other three male students being caned also surfaced. The students in the video were later identified as first-year students of Ishaka Adventist Nursing School in Bushenyi district.
Stealthily recorded and shared by fellow students, the videos exposed the vice that is still happening in schools, prompting an investigation by the Ministry of Education and other government agencies. Chapter Four Uganda, a Human Rights organization also instituted an independent human rights investigation into the matter and the wider use of corporal punishment in schools and communities at large. The Police also launched a criminal investigation into the cruel and degrading punishment at the nursing school.
The nursing school administration confirmed that the two tutors involved in the incident have been suspended and that the school is supporting all investigations into the matter. Mr. Muhindo Kitima, the Principal of Ishaka Adventist Nursing school acknowledged that inflicting physical harm of any kind on students is against the school policy and is something that before this, had never happened at the school before this recorded incident. This, he says, was an isolated incident that so happened to catch public attention due to the videos that were leaked online.
“All cases of indiscipline are punished with parent-student-teacher meetings, counseling, suspension, digging around the school, buying wire mesh for the school fence, all depending on the severity of the offense and in extremes, expulsion from the school. This was an isolated case that was not handled properly,” he said.
Caning is a form of corporal punishment. It also amounts to a form of degrading punishment and therefore a human rights violation. Not only does it cause physical harm but this mode of punishment also has adverse psychological effects such as fear for authority, loss of interest in education, low attention span and resentment of education on a whole. Personal consequences include embarrassment, stigma, and loss of self-esteem.
The young women as seen in the video both insist they should have been given an opportunity to face the disciplinary committee and the options of reprimand should not have included corporal punishment. One of the students was punished twice – suspension and on return, she was canned.
Narrating their experience, the young women said they felt embarrassed, uncomfortable and humiliated. Their esteem was affected and they were hurt by it.
This was exacerbated by the video circulating which evoked backlash from fellow students, parents, the and teachers as well. The students were demonized by their families and some of their peers and teachers. With all the resentment they experienced, they both wish the videos had never been shared on social media. They expressed fear over having their identities exposed to the whole world and what that would mean to their future employment possibilities.
What happened at Ishaka Adventist School of Nursing is not an isolated incident. Many cases of corporal punishment continue to be reported. A lot more needs to be done to end corporal punishment in schools in all its forms. While social media plays a great role in unearthing wrongdoings and human rights violations in institutions as it did in this case, it also has an effect on the psychological and social wellbeing of people whose privacy is breached as videos and images circulate leaving them exposed.