Saturday, June 27, 2009

Statement Rejecting Ban on Corporal Punishment in Guyana


Dear Sirs/Ladies,

I greet you in the name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ!

I refer to the Motion on corporal punishment tabled before the House on November 6 2006, and would register my concern about its apparent threat to established legal and constitutional structures, its apparent bias and misrepresentation, its apparent pursuit of a dubious political agenda to the detriment of the national ethos, and its apparent assault on sovereignty. It is also anti-Bible, anti-Christian and anti-religious in its scope and intent, since it is directly opposed to established principle in various sacred texts. Finally, it is also dismissive of established and reputable secular and academic research.

This letter is accompanied by a Dossier, same also available by writing, or by accessing the online report at .

As to misrepresentation:

Firstly, the Motion may be asking Government and Parliament to agree to something that it never envisioned when signing the Convention. We ask the House: “What does the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) have to say on the matter of ‘corporal punishment’?” It may be eye-opening to some that the Convention does not mention the term ‘corporal punishment’ at all. Ms. Chantalle Smith of the AFC, as well as the National Commission on the Rights of the Child (NCRC), are guilty of misrepresentation in implying that Guyana must consider the specific idea of “corporal punishment” as falling within the perspective, framework and intention of the original framers and signatories of the convention. Sections 2 and 5 of the Motion fail accordingly, lacking as they do specific legal and constitutional imperative. Given the evidence liberally supplied everywhere in the online dossier, this attempt at legislative sleight of hand is unworthy of our political representatives, and illustrates a casualness with factual detail that reflects poorly on the awareness of those initiating the Motion. I represent the other hidden issues in the words of Elder Lionel Persaud on pages 9-11 of the online Dossier. The implications are enormous. Not to consider them constitutes a misrepresentation of the issue by the authors of said Motion.

Secondly, the Motion seems aimed at imposing some extreme interpretations on the Convention as a means of promoting a somewhat ‘radical” social agenda. Sections 6 and 7 of the Motion illustrate the unacceptable analytical latitude taken in moving from the broad terms of the Convention to the campaign for “the abolition of corporal punishment”. The issue of “excessive latitude” is addressed in more detail using the words of Families First at page 15 of the online Dossier. I urge the House to recognize that nothing in Article 19 as stated in Section 2 of the Motion, and Article 28(2) (“States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that school discipline is administered in a manner consistent with the child’s human dignity and in conformity with the present Convention”) should be considered as inimical to, or in any way destructive of, the generous provisions for the protection of other rights and cultural distinctives preserved in additional UN -Declarations and local legal/constitutional provisions, specifically: (a) the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; (b) the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights; (c) the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; (d) the right to freedom of religion under the provisions of the Guyana Constitution; (e) the rights, duties, privileges and responsibilities of parents; (f) the duties and responsibilities of caregivers and schoolteachers as currently and historically outlined by the local ministry of Education, and; (g) the careful distinction between lawful punishment and abuse already outlined by Guyana’s laws.

Indeed, I believe with Lionel Persaud that the guidelines for corporal punishment of learners set out on page 21 of the Guyana Ministry of Education’s “Manual of Guidelines for the Maintenance of Order and Discipline in Schools”, published in April 2002, adequately address this matter, and render Section 8 of the Motion (Resolution) contentious and unnecessary. These guidelines provide for corporal punishment to be administered by a Head or Senior Teacher, in appropriate circumstances such as fighting or gross insubordination, in an appropriate place, privately, on the hands or buttocks, with the appropriate instrument, cane or strap, and must be documented in the “Misdemeanour Book” the same day the punishment is administered. These provisions are in keeping with Guyanese traditions, cultural values and the dignity of our children and must be upheld by the Ministry of Education. This also is in keeping with the Convention itself which stipulates that the due account must be taken “of the importance of the traditions and cultural values of each people for the protection and harmonious development of the child.” We in Guyana must interpret Articles 19 and 28 for ourselves and resist foreign interpretations which seek to impose values alien to our culture. Section 7 of the Motion is thereby of dubious legal merit.

As to a threat to established legal and constitutional structures, and an assault on sovereignty:

Thirdly, we should reject the implications of Sections 1-4 of the Motion that Guyana conceded sovereignty generally in any way, and/or specifically on the context of corporal punishment, with its accession to the Convention of the Rights of the Child (hereinafter CRC). The words of Patrick Fagan of the Heritage Foundation on page 14 of the online Dossier are useful in advocating strongly that the U.N. Charter itself states that "Nothing contained [herein] shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the Members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter." Indeed, a 1960 General Assembly Resolution states that "All peoples have an inalienable right to complete freedom, the exercise of their sovereignty and the integrity of their national territory." It is further contended with Fagan that the Motion illustrates that the U.N.'s long-standing respect for the right of sovereign nations to set their own domestic policies has, as with this Motion, yielded to a new countercultural agenda espoused in U.N. committee reports and documents, particularly those relating to the implementation of the CRC.
Fourthly, I signal to the Government and Parliament of Guyana that, consistent with Dr. Mark Hartwig’s abundant outline of evidence on page 8 of the online Dossier, Section 5 of the Motion confirms the CRC’s threat to established legal and constitutional structures (in Guyana and elsewhere) on several distinct grounds. The issues outlined below are enough to evince caution at this time, and also if necessary to evince the two-thirds parliamentary unity necessary for the constitutional change needed to fend off the anarchy portended by the Motion:

1. It allows excessive breadth of interpretation;

a) The CRC allows committee members too much room to impose their own ideological agenda.
b) The committee chastised the (UK) government for allowing parents to withdraw their children from sex-education classes if the parents disagreed with what was being presented.
c) Precedence is given not to religion, culture, or the rights of parents, but to the committee’s ideological preferences— contrary to fundamental principles repeatedly affirmed in such documents as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights; and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

2. It gives the Committee on the Rights of the Child virtually unlimited jurisdiction;

a) The CRC gives the committee a virtually unlimited mandate to insert itself in the affairs of a nation.
b) It can demand wholesale changes in a country’s legal system, education system, and social-welfare institutions
c) In fact, the lack of an enforcement mechanism is what gives the committee its broad reach. Any enforcement mechanism approved by the General Assembly would include provisions for due process and appeals—and would thereby limit the committee’s discretion.

3. It gives undue influence to special interests;

a) NGOs have consultative status at the UN. Examples of such organizations are International Planned Parenthood, International Save the Children Alliance, World Assembly of Youth, the American Psychological Association, and the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy.
b) Not only are these working-group meetings closed to government representatives and the public, but the committee may invite NGOs to join these deliberations.
c) This arrangement is ripe for abuse. It essentially allows groups that have a stake in the committee’s decisions to play a role in those decisions.

4. It undermines the legitimate role of parents:

a) The rights and duties of parents are consistently given the lowest priority.
b) The obvious role of parents as a frontline defense for their children is rejected in favor or some unspecified monitoring mechanism.”
c) By weakening these bonds of accountability, the convention weakens important restraints on selfish, hurtful behavior.
d) Allowing children to hide their activities also cuts the children off from their parents’ guidance and protection.

5. It advances policies that intrude on national sovereignty:

a) The government reports and committee recommendations give citizens and interest groups legal standing to sue their governments and force compliance with the convention.
b) Imagine the plaintiff in a lawsuit being able to meet privately with the jury before the trial, or a businessman joining a legislative committee to weigh a new law that affects his business. Such obvious conflicts of interest would never be tolerated in American law or politics. Neither should they be tolerated at the UN (or in Guyana).

As to the blind pursuit of a dubious political agenda to the detriment of the national ethos

Fifthly, we would address the issue of the place of physical correction in the discipline of children. We use the words of Families First in its representation to the Joint Committee on Human Rights in 2003 to reject the point that the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child considers the "reasonable chastisement" defence to be "a serious violation of the dignity of the child". At this forum, much as in/at the Ninth Parliament of Guyana, no supporting evidence was supplied to substantiate this view which appears to reflect a predetermined ideological commitment. In fact, we should point out that a generous amount of secular academic work and theological doctrine exists to the contrary. We point to pages 22, 25 and 27 of the online Dossier to illustrate the inadequacy and casualness with which the author of the Motion has treated this important issue. Families First goes on to illustrate that the UK’s equivalent of the NCRC went on to call for blanket legislation against all forms of physical punishment as a matter of "urgency" and suggests that corporal punishment is a negative and violent form of discipline. We point to pages 15 and 30 of the Dossier in dismissing this position. We further urge comprehensive review of the calamitous developments in Sweden and Trinidad documented on pages 6, 11 and 19 of the Dossier as further evidence in this regard. These developments, including a 519% increase in child-on-child assaults for Sweden, all occurred after “bans” on corporal punishment.

Therefore, on the basis of the experience of generations of parents and academic research findings, I join Families First in rejecting the notion that all forms of corporal discipline are negative and violent, and constitute a violation of a child's human dignity and physical integrity. We use the words of David Benatar at page 12 of the Dossier to show that no less than five safeguards (Infrequent pain without injury; Non-discrimination; Due process; Timing; and other Safeguards) can be generally applied to legitimize the application of corporal punishment in schools. Consistent with the Families First position, I am “…enclosing along with this submission references to our paper “Not Without Reason: The place of physical correction in the discipline of children”, which was submitted to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child in advance of its day of general discussion on "Violence against children within the family and in schools" in June 2001. This paper addresses the emotive language frequently employed by campaigners who wish to impose their own unproven philosophy on all other parents by force of law and draws on research findings which demonstrate the positive benefits of appropriate physical correction used in conjunction with reason and in the context of a warm relationship where the child is valued and cherished.” The document “Not Without Reason …“ is referenced at pages 13 and 16 of the online Dossier.

I should also mention that the highlighted annotation at the head of page 16 in the Dossier ( ) has serious academic and moral implications, and I will supply evidence of this duplicity in the ongoing correspondence between Families First and the CRIN website by anyone writing to

I believe that the failure of the Motion to bring the magnitude and scholarship of the opposing view, and its implications, to the attention of Parliament represents the blind pursuit of a dubious political agenda to the detriment of the national ethos

As to bias, and a threat to constitutional provisions regarding freedom of religion:

I am mindful of the responsibility to provide perspective and clarity to the House, unlike the authors of the Motion.

Sixthly, therefore, the President and Members of Parliament will find that the online Dossier, distilled from hundreds of pages of research to a compact 30-page format, addresses the obvious bias in the Motion to the House.

The Dossier outlines alternative perspectives of approaching the idea of corporal punishment that corresponds with the view, both academic and spiritual, of a majority of Guyana’s population. It identifies the new imperative in the issue of corporal punishment, and with other social issues, as “Education & Information” rather than “abolition”. It presents corporal punishment as a meaningful and time-honoured part of an overall strategy to enable meaningful and productive child development. It illustrates that a liberal approach to child development, without being under-girded by the incentive of corporal punishment, is decidedly flawed. It shows that “corporal punishment” is a credible alternative/support to other strategies of discipline and child-development, and that a robust body of research-based knowledge and theological experience already exists to show that the concept has been effective. Finally, it demonstrates how corporal punishment has been put into good effect in relevant child- and adult-populations, and its relevance to Guyana’s unique circumstances.

We therefore conclude that corporal punishment is beneficial in schools when applied within the parameters of existing Ministry of Education guidelines, and the safeguards outlined. To the extent that any leeway given to the AFC on this Motion will portend a future attempt to ban corporal punishment altogether, I conclude further that it should be left to parents to determine disciplinary measures in the home. I call on the government and parliamentarians to legislate or defer accordingly.

The Caribbean (including Guyana) is an example of good family life and values. Discipline by authority figures is encouraged to be administered in an environment of affection. We must not import the failed model of other countries. In 2004, the Guyanese public was consulted on this very issue (, and facilitated by a workshop run by the First Lady. The response from the majority, including a clear voice from our children, was a resounding "No" to the removal of CP.


Roger Williams
Georgetown, Guyana
June, 2007

While this Open Letter and the online dossier is together styled as an "advisory" which any person/organization can choose to adopt, I stress that the text of the entire document has been screened to represent and reflect a purely personal opinion, and should not be construed at this time as the opinion of the Christian Community in Guyana or the respective churches or heads of churches that its members represent (I had styled another version as a more direct advisory to the Christian Community). While I have tried to be diligent in the editorial process, any typographical or constructional errors that take away from this are entirely my responsibility, and should be brought to my attention immediately. A public apology and correction will be offered immediately.

Roger Williams

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