Taboo: Cruelty to Children

Daily Mirror

From “servant girls” to “school kids”. children are paying a price

Sri Lankans were not known to be a cruel, yet instances of outright wickedness are now rearing their ugly heads. We are shocked by the stories of little servant girls being abused and viciously punished for minor infractions by Sri Lankan housewives.

I remember a 10-year -old village child in the house of a teacher ( I think ) who was beaten unmercifully for eating a piece of cheese. The subsequent wounds sustained by her were bad enough to have her teacher-mistress hauled before a judge. [I do not remember if she was given a sentence or just warned.]

Using children as servants is against the law and yet it is being broken with impunity. Children have had a difficult time when they were used as servants because they were commonly placed in middle-class homes where they were the only house help and consequently thoroughly overworked.

My concern today is cruelty in schools where narrow-minded and poorly educated principals (and teachers) have the audacity to throw students out of schools on imaginary violations of ethical behaviour. Principals and teachers seem to be venting their frustrations on children in their school.

When I speak of ‘being poorly educated’ I do not mean the lacking of a basic degree; but a basic degree is hardly adequate for school principals. Have they been schooled further in the art of handling children? Do they have qualities of patience, kindness and sympathy in addition to disciplinary skills? Are they mature and responsible people without any psychological problems of their own which hamper proper understanding of school children?

Remember the instance where a teacher got her class to physically abuse their own classmate for not cleaning the class room ( or some such silly reason)? I find it interesting that these instances that are reported in the media usually refer to girl’s schools and rarely to boy’s schools. Are women unkind and men more generous minded?

Not so; men are just as appallingly behaved when considering number of sexual assaults made by male teachers on students that are regularly reported in the media. But it seems as if female students suffer most.

Any saying similar to the words in the Bible: “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone” should be dinned into the heads of every person who deals with youngsters

Parents are singularly powerless much of the time; the reason is not hard to find. Their children have been given ‘placement’ in a Government school with some difficulty. Parents learn to keep their mouths shut if they want their children to go through school without hassle. Principals and teachers ( mostly in outstation schools ) are NEVER brought to book for mean treatment of those in their care. Parents would not dare to risk their child’s ‘place’. Where else can they go?

I now come to the recent incident of a principal summarily expelling a girl because she threw up in school. The child came from an extremely poor family and I must ask ‘Would the principal have thrown her out so fast had she been the daughter of a mudalali of the area who had the power and the means to fight back?

I listened to the girl’s mother being interviewed on TV a few night ago. She was understandably distraught. It was bad enough that the principal had declared her daughter pregnant ( when apparently she wasn’t ) but that villagers in the area were asking the family to move from their home because of the shame of an unwanted pregnancy in their midst.

The sanctimoniousness of those villagers defies belief…and their cruelty to a family already under stress is truly appalling. They add hypocrisy to all this and one wonders what their religious beliefs have done for them. One feels that any saying similar to the words in the Bible: “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone” should be dinned into the heads of every person who deals with youngsters.

How SHOULD have that principal behaved if she suspected one of her pupils was pregnant? To start it would have been a good idea if she had a private talk with her to hear her side of the story ( if she had one.) If the child WAS pregnant then she obviously needed help and a great deal of understanding. She might have been raped or even been the victim of incest. Why would the principal jump to a conclusion the pregnancy was the result of a sexual encounter and damn the child for life?

Professionally as well as personally, this is not the first time I have heard of instances of cruelty in schools On a personal note I hear of my Kandy maid’s grandchild being constantly asked for money for costumes, picnics, educational trips, even dance trips abroad while my Colombo-based daily maid’s son goes to a school in Kotte which provides everything a child needs – from costumes to trips.

I was under the impression that such requests for money made by schools were supervised by the Dept of Education?

Any underlying vein of cruelty will always hamper Sri Lankans from progressing as they should. Educators can see that the study of religion in school is not doing a whit of good. Leave religion for parents to handle who bring families grow closer together as they teach their sons and daughters the correct values of life. Leaving ethical values to be taught by today’s teachers is a waste of time.

Cruelty is part of the struggle of life. We can all be cruel and so are we; often. But at least let us not use authority and power to be vicious in dealing with our youth in schools. Once they get to university, of course, discipline is another matter! Perhaps if students had a sympathetic and understanding in school they may be better prepared to deal with higher studies in a university environment.

Here is a good adage for every principal to follow: “Use your authority and power to justify it.”