In light of recent events where 11-year-old Mohamad Thaqif Amin Mohd Gaddafi passed away due to physical abuse at his religious school, the spotlight has once again shifted towards corporal punishment.

With the prevalence of corporal punishment, its physical and mental impact on children has become a cause for concern.

Corporal punishment takes centre stage in Malaysia

First reported on 22 April, the story of 11-year-old Mohamad Thaqif who had to have both his legs amputated as a result of his injuries was brought to light. Further investigation revealed that Mohamad Thaqif’s injuries were due to physical abuse by the warden in his religious school under the guise of corporal punishment.

With treatment proving to be unresponsive, a tragic host of events followed as Mohamad Thaif’s bacterial infection persistently worsened. On 27 April, Mohamad Thaqif passed away just five days after his initial hospitalisation.

As a result of this tragic event, public exposure towards corporal punishment increased exponentially. Shortly after the incident, more and more parents began coming forth with reports of physical abuse occurring in schools. Even the Prime Minister and Sultan of Johor took note of the incident and offered condolences towards the victim.

The Inspector General of Police (IGP) declared the acts of physical abuse by the religious school warden as murder with criminal charges following. The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) also called for corporal punishment in schools to be scrapped, while UNICEF urged corporal punishment to be banned in Malaysian schools.

The stance of various countries on corporal punishment

Malaysia has a long-standing history of corporal punishment in schools, with the infamous public caning being the most common form of discipline in many public schools. Today, the act of corporal punishment can only be legally applied to male students. However, the topic is in constant debate between various parties from both a legal and ethical standpoint.

Nevertheless, corporal punishment remains a hazardous issue even on an international scale, with different countries having different stances towards the act. There is also no clear consensus arising between nations, nor distinction between developed and developing nations.

Physical and mental health effects of corporal punishment

One of the main proponents for the banning of corporal punishment in schools is its detrimental effects towards the health of children. While physical injury is the most clear, mental health effects are not to be underestimated, where the child’s psychological development may be chronically impacted. Physical injuries are largely dependent on the type of punishment, with injuries varying from simple bruises to more serious fractures.

Meanwhile, a known mental health effect of corporal punishment is Educationally Induced Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (EIPTSD), which is clear from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) suffered by adults. Symptoms of this disorder include fatigue, suicidal thoughts, anxiety episodes, increased anger, outbursts of aggression, antisocial and risky behaviour.

To make matters worse, children subjected to corporal punishment are at higher risk of depression, alcohol and drug abuse and psychological maladjustment. All of these issues carry over into adulthood and continue to persist unless treated appropriately.

Corporal punishment remains a deep-seated issue not just in Malaysia, but in many other countries too. Part of it stands from the deep-seated roots of corporal punishment, which are often culture and community practices. As such, shaking these practices goes further than simply legal legislation. MIMS

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