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Corporal Punishment


Primary 1 student caned in front of nearly a thousand students

by Grace Chua

The New Paper - 15 Aug 2004

He's just an errant Primary 1 pupil. Yet, he was caned - publicly. This 7-year-old was given one stroke of the cane in front of his teachers and schoolmates. Nearly a thousand students from Primary 1 to 3 saw him being caned on the buttocks during afternoon assembly last week.

The principal of the school in Jurong confirmed the punishment. Two older boys - in Primary 3 - were caned along with him. Each received two strokes of the cane. It is understood that all three were caned for a 'serious offence' - equivalent to an adult act of vandalism or throwing killer litter, said their principal.

However, she declined to provide further details. She would only say the boys were caned with their parents' knowledge and consent. The parents could not be contacted yesterday. But the incident made its mark on some students and their parents, including one who alerted The New Paper and protested against the caning.

So was it wrong to cane a 7-year-old?

The Ministry of Education guidelines on corporal punishment are clear enough: It should be a last resort for serious offences. The school must have done its utmost to help the child The person who administers the punishment must not do so in anger.


The question of a child's age just doesn't arise, because it's assumed that schools would do everything to help the child. But it still came as a shock to the people The New Paper spoke to. While the parents of most of the students in the school did not know about the caning at all, the reactions of those who did ranged from astonishment to outrage. One parent, who wished to be known only as Mrs Tan said: 'My 7-year-old son came back from school crying and traumatised after seeing his schoolmate caned on stage. 'He needs the assurance that he will not experience such things. 'I found it quite troubling that a Primary 1 child should be publicly caned,' she added. Added housewife Mrs Flores, who also has a son in Primary 1 in the same school: 'Maybe the parents could discipline the child on their own. It's not suitable for the boy to be caned in school as it's so embarrassing.'

But there were those who saw nothing wrong with the way the school disciplined its pupils. Madam Tan, 36, a housewife whose son is also in Primary 1 at the school, said in Mandarin: 'It's nothing to make a fuss about. 'Sometimes children just cannot be disciplined even though you try, and they should be caned.'

And that was the stand of the school principal. She said that all three boys had already been counselled repeatedly. They had also gone through the school's behaviour modification programme - a play-group therapy session to teach anger management and social skills - but to no avail.

'Caning is a punishment of last resort - after other methods have been used to counsel and discipline the pupil,' she added. She emphasised that humiliating the boys was not the point.

Then why did the school cane them onstage in the first place? Especially one who is only 7 years old? 'The offences he committed were serious and had great impact on his fellow schoolmates,' said the principal.


For less serious offences such as theft or fighting, a student might be caned in her office instead of in front of the school. But what about the impact of the caning on the young pupils who witnessed the punishment?

Form teachers were told to address any concerns that their pupils might have, and to look out for pupils who might be emotionally affected by the caning. And canings were 'very rare' - less than once a year, she said. She added that the boys were also counselled before and after the caning.

She did not decide lightly to come down with a heavy hand on the boys: It was the stroke of the last resort.


Should primary school pupils be caned in public?

Child psychologist Kenneth Lyen feels children should not be caned in general. 'If the child does something nasty like hitting or punching someone, the last thing you want to do is to use force, because you'll be teaching them that physical violence is permissible. That's the one message you mustn't give the child,' he said. As for caning in public, Dr Lyen said: 'That's the worst thing to do. It's humiliating and demeaning. You may engender a seething resentment of the system, the school and the principal.'

Anderson Primary principal Mr Chong Kwai Kuen said: 'I'm personally not for public caning, especially if the student is very young (lower primary). If they're still young, you should give them a chance. 'And public caning will have side-effects on the child's self-esteem,' he added.

Mr Leong Kok Hwa, 46, an accounts assistant, took the same stand. 'If a child is punished in front of the whole school he may lose his confidence because of the shame, and then lose interest in his studies,' said the father of a son in Primary 1 and a daughter in Secondary 2.

Ministry of Education counsellor, Miss Au Na Chuang, however, thought there could be no blanket rules for or against caning. 'You really have to look at the situation. If the child's done something that hurt a lot of people, then it may be justified. It's not so easy to say or to judge,' she said.


One mother of three in her 40s, who wanted to be known only as Madam Wong, said: 'I believe the school would cane only for a repeat offence. I trust that the school would know the best thing to do.' But in the end, it's parents who are responsible for disciplining their children, said Madam Yeo Hong Eng, 40. 'Children these days are quite pampered. At home they can do a lot of things, but once they get to school, there are rules to follow. Parents should also do their part,' said the civil engineer, whose daughter is in Pri 4.