The tragic case of a lunch meal: Revisiting corporal punishment in schools

By Shazeera Ahmad Zawawi (
November 18, 2010

NOV 18 — On November 5, a mother complained to the Sarawak Education Department that her son was caned by his teacher for bringing pork to school. As you notice (of which I hope you do), I did not mention the religious or ethnic background of the boy at all. There are two reasons why I left out those layers of fact.

First, I felt sick with how recently our statesmen, bureaucrats or politicians are missing the plot to this sad incident. The Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz, for example, called for an investigation of the boy’s religious status before conclusions can be drawn on why he was caned. Our independent parliamentarian, Zulkifli Nordin, utilised this issue against PAS and got into an unnecessary argument with Dr Zulkefly Ahmad, another parliamentarian from the Islamic party. Apparently, the righteous fight and egoistical call to defend Islam trumps a poor child’s “wrong” selection of lunch meal.

Secondly, the issue turned into a cliche religious debate albeit the fact that the real concern is not so much about the boy’s religious status but why he was even caned in the first place. Is it in the best interest of the boy as a child, to be caned, whipped or spanked over his private choice of lunch? The Disciplinary Guidelines for Headmasters and Teachers 1988 clearly spelled the procedures for corporal punishment in school. It clearly indicates how caning is not a disciplinary action that can be undertaken by just any teacher. Specific power is given to the headmaster to execute the punishment and the requirements for delegation of power to cane were also expressed in the guidelines. In other words, caning in school is supposed to be exercised with due care and caution.

On top of that realisation, I attended the National Consultation to Review the School Disciplinary Regulations organised by the Ministry of Education in my former capacity as an officer with the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia a few years ago. There were extensive discussions on the use of corporal punishment against children in school by educators, parents and civil society during the consultation. The strong justification for such use to be continued is due to the argument that children nowadays are difficult to control and discipline.

Reflecting on those enlightening discussions I had during the consultation, I wonder now whether bringing pork to school would amount to being difficult and undisciplined. Even more worrying is whether our present educators are capable of assessing a school offence objectively without succumbing to their own personal values and bias?

In discussing the use of corporal punishment in school, it is important for us to revisit our human rights commitment where child rights are concerned. When Malaysia ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in November 1995, it accepts fully the provisions of Article 28 (2) that details the approach to disciplinary measures in school. The article states that;

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.

Corporal punishment is obviously inconsistent with human rights principles. Since the consultation I attended and with this latest incident further eroding my trust and confidence in our education system, I wonder whether we can see a more progressive change to the school disciplinary regulations in Malaysia that puts a child’s interest and well being as its primary consideration.

This issue is not a mere case of a religiously dysfunctional family’s controversial choice of meat. It also exposes how our education system handles the questions of personal choices in a heterogeneous society. Should we resort to force and impose ideals every time we catch a person committing something that is in conflict with our own personal beliefs and choices? What happened to human compassion and respect?

I completely understand why the incident is stirring hostility from many sectors but as we attempt to make sense of the issue using our set of experiences, fears, prejudices and limited understandings, we forget that the real victim here is the little boy. Not only was he caned for bringing to school a lunch meal that was prepared by his mother, his religious status and private life is now open to public probe.

I am a firm believer that as a Muslim using physical force against a child or accusing an Islamic party for allowing the sin of eating pork to be committed by other fellow Muslims will not resolve anything. If we seriously have concerns with how our Muslim brothers or sisters behave, wouldn’t showing love and respect counts as an effective step to reconcile our differences or hostilities? Isn’t that what Islam is all about? —

  1. #1 by tak tahan on Thursday, 18 November 2010 - 11:54 am

    Islam religion is a good as any other religions but in this bolehland;mostly muslims are hypocrite.Islam is being exploited to gain political and economic mileage.Contrary to what the teaching of islam as these hyprocrite said otherwise.The biggest evil of hyprocrite.

  2. #2 by k1980 on Thursday, 18 November 2010 - 1:38 pm

    Was Awang Hitam Barry Obama caned by his Indon teacher when he brought pork to his school?

  3. #3 by dagen on Thursday, 18 November 2010 - 2:08 pm

    Islam Jenis Umno.

    Need I say more.

  4. #4 by boh-liao on Thursday, 18 November 2010 - 6:39 pm

    MCA kept telling us dat under UmnoB/BN, nation not Islamic n tali.banised
    MCA kept telling us 2 b afraid of PAS n PR, cos PAS pushing 4 Islamic nation
    Get MCA n CSL 2 tell us again UmnoB not tali.banising dis nation

  5. #5 by good coolie on Thursday, 18 November 2010 - 8:04 pm

    Let’s punish parents by punishing their children. After all, the child’s parent should have known that it is not polite to eat pork in a public (government) school. Ah, vicarious punishment!

  6. #6 by cemerlang on Friday, 19 November 2010 - 7:07 am

    The Islam religious teachings are effective from the time it was found. There are no divisions in its’ religious process like a part belonging to the ancient times and a part belonging to the modern times and having a drastic change to suit the ongoing time. In other words, you can apply all the Islamic laws no matter how inhumane, how barbaric, how senseless to whatever situation. Yes, it talks about the love and forgiveness of Allah. But it is not enough to convict a staunch believer that he or she cannot use those rigid laws anymore. Instead of seeing Allah as the God is love, Allah is seen as the ultimate god who can do what it wants to do and humans should not question that. In fact psychologically humans want a god like that because it will solve many crimes. Caning is painful as compared to a letter of warning or scolding which the child will forget. We all remember who caned us in school and why and many of us will not do what we did and got ourselves caned. Especially the naughty and bad deeds that got us into hot soup with the teachers back those times. Our teachers would have forgotten who they caned because many did it in the name of discipline and it is true, without discipline, we all go haywire. Of course the issue is this. Is it justifiable for a child of whatever religious value to be caned for eating pork ? Is it not sinful for a pregnant Muslim lady to eat pork because of her craving for that ? Is it right for Muslim men to drink alchohol and have promicious relationships ? They all should be caned.

  7. #7 by undertaker888 on Friday, 19 November 2010 - 9:05 am

    let’s cane all the umno MPs for
    1) adultery
    2) stealing from rakyat
    3) drinking alcohol

  8. #8 by ktteokt on Friday, 19 November 2010 - 9:12 am

    Islam is one religion I find which is SELECTIVE! Whilst it refuses to change with times pertaining to many aspects, one thing it has improvize since Nabi Mohamed’s days is the placing of LOUDSPEAKERS on top of mosques to announce its prayers! Tell me if Nabi Mohamed had LOUDSPEAKERS above his mosque those days!

    Times change, things change and so people change!!!!!

  9. #9 by cemerlang on Friday, 19 November 2010 - 12:45 pm

    Islam does not change. There is no teaching in the Quran which says that a teaching has to be relevant. There is a call to azan. The Muslims will pray as loud as they can in order for their prayers to reach heaven and heard by Allah. This loud prayer alert all the other Muslims to pray. That is back those times when there is no electricity and no equipments. They had horns though. hmmm…in the desert, how do bedouins know when to pray ?

  10. #10 by Cinapek on Saturday, 20 November 2010 - 11:02 am

    “…succumbing to their own personal values and bias?…”

    :…we forget that the real victim here is the little boy…..”

    Two statements that sums up this whole sordid issue.

    We have allowed the bickering of race and religion of adults to victimise our children. Clearly , the teacher who caned the boy is a religious bigot who has allowed his own bias to vent his extremism on an innocent young boy. And how did this religious bigot developed his extremism? And what gave him the courage to hurt an innocent little boy on such flimsy excuse? This blame lies squarely with the Ministry of Education who dragged their feet over the two incidents in Johor and Kedah where the school principals made racist and religious remarks thus sending the wrong message that teachers who abuse their students for religious reasons would go unpunished.

    It is sad that a young boy is the victim for the follies of adults. It is also sad that the principal of this school who could have taken a stand against such barbaric and unjustified treatment of an innocent young boy chose to stay on the sidelines instead of initiating disciplinary action against the offending teacher. The Ministry, the Minister, the principal, the teacher and to a certain extent, the PIBG have failed our children. It is time we protect them.

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