THIS newspaper is seriously concerned at the reported position of Mrs Carlene McCalla-Francis, principal of the Kensington Primary School in St Catherine who believes that the flogging of children is justifiable punishment for academic underachievement.
The principal is quoted in yesterday's Sunday Observer as saying "We are working under pressure here as we are given targets, so if you have a class where children have ability you can't just sit there and say who pass, pass, you have to do what you have to do. Two little slaps in the palm of the hands is not abuse."
The Sunday Observer reported that Kensington Primary is the subject of complaint from a parent who contends that her child was hit in the palm of the hand by a teacher with a ruler. This, because of failure to achieve an academic mark set by the school.
Until recently, the practice of flogging was considered routine at Kensington Primary. Mrs McCalla-Francis and her staff appear to believe that blows from a ruler in the palm of the hand do not constitute physical abuse.
We are forced to conclude that they give little or no thought to the negative psychological and emotional consequences of corporal punishment - no matter how mild they may perceive such beatings to be.
Mrs McCalla-Francis seemingly has not considered the possibility of anxiety attacks with serious medical consequences for children who live in fear of being physically humiliated in this way.
We are told that Ms McCalla-Francis is well aware of the possibility of litigation in relation to corporal punishment on children.
There are, of course, other far more high-profile cases of children being seriously hurt as a result of accidents during the application of corporal punishment in schools. One such has led to prosecution in recent times.
As we understand it, the Ministry of Education has forbidden corporal punishment in schools and the teachers' union, the Jamaica Teachers' Association also frowns on the practice.
However, the Sunday Observer's report apart, anecdotal evidence suggests that corporal punishment continues in many schools.
There seems to be a feeling that, whatever the Ministry of Education and others may say, schools are subject to the directives of school boards and further that the law of the land does not explicitly forbid the flogging of children.
We are aware that in most cases teachers also feel reinforced by the attitude of parents who contend that "pickney mus' get beaten". Of course, many Jamaicans believe fervently in the Old Testament injunction captured in Proverbs 13:24 which has been summarised and interpreted to mean that we shouldn't "spare the rod and spoil the child".
The previous Minister of Education, Mr Andrew Holness was very forthright in his objection to corporal punishment in schools.
Early last year, amidst furore surrounding serious injury to a child -- accidentally hit in the eye by the buckle of a belt wielded by a teacher -- Mr Holness promised that a green paper would be tabled in Parliament to discuss corporal punishment. The intention, as we understood it at the time, was to frame legislation that would make it explicitly unlawful for teachers to beat children and for schools to become "violence free zones".
The then Government, as we understood it, was strongly influenced by the recognition that Jamaica is signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which forbids child beating.
We are not aware that the promised green paper was ever produced.
We believe that this issue involving Kensington Primary presents the perfect opportunity for the current Minister of Education Mr Ronnie Thwaites to outline his Government's position on corporal punishment clearly and unequivocally.
We believe also that it is full time for the matter to be debated in Parliament and for relevant legislation to be drafted to deal with this issue of child beating, once and for all.