Violent discipline is the most common form of violence experienced by children in Nigeria. While it is important to teach children self-control and acceptable behaviours, many teachers, parents and caregivers rely on the use of violent methods to punish unwanted behaviours to encourage what is right.
This choice of discipline may induce some form of harmful behaviour in children given the increased potential for physical injuries, as well as adopting coping mechanisms to alleviate their distress.
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 85 per cent of Nigerian children between the ages of 1 and 14 experience violent discipline in schools, with nearly 1 in 3 children experiencing severe physical punishment.
The Chief of Education in the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), Saadhna Panday-Soobrayan, in an event, stated that violent discipline took place in institutions entrusted to keep children safe, develop respect for human rights and prepare them for life in a society that promotes understanding, peace and conflict resolution through dialogue.
She added that the persistence of these practices contradicted Nigeria’s national policy on safety, security, and violence-free schools, which commits to zero tolerance for any threat to the security of life and property in schools. It is also stalling Nigeria’s progress towards SDG 3 to ensure good health and wellbeing, SDG 4 on equitable and inclusive quality education and target 16.2 to end abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children.
While many will think physical punishment causes only physical pain, it must be noted that it causes sadness, fear, shame and anger.
It is also linked to children’s hyper-reactivity to stress, changes in brain structure and function, overloaded nervous, cardiovascular and nutritional systems.
Researches have linked physical punishment with long-term disability or death, mental ill health, impaired cognitive and socio-emotional development, school dropout and poor academic, occupational outcomes, increased antisocial behaviour, aggression and criminal behaviour in adulthood, as well as damaged relationships through intergenerational transmission.
The Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, endorsed the action plan and roadmap for ending corporal punishment in schools in line with the Child’s Right Act passed into law in 2003, protecting children’s right to a life free of violence.
Adamu noted that globally, there is evidence indicating that corporal punishment in schools had impaired negatively on attendance and learning outcomes.
From the foregoing, it can be said that violent punishment brings about negative, rather than positive consequences on the whole process of teaching and learning as it tends to increase child aggression and antisocial behaviour.
Violent punishment can be curbed if there is a strengthened legislative and institutional framework to protect children who are vulnerable and exposed to violence, abuse and exploitation.
There should be strengthened capacities of government and key stakeholders, including social welfare and justice services that prevent and respond to violence against children.
Also, development, coordination and implementation of inter-social norms, strategy to end violence against children, including child marriage and other harmful traditional practices, should be supported.
There is also the need to ensure that children in humanitarian situations have timely and sustained access to quality, preventive and responsive child protection services and strengthen the birth registration system to scale up the registration of children under the age of five, with focus on children under one.
Lastly, strengthening UNICEF’s child protection programme, which aims to provide preventive and responsive interventions for children who are victims of, or at risk from violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation through strengthened child protection systems, will further reduce the percentage of child violence in the country.