The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has said Nigerian children aged one to 14 years are facing violent discipline in schools, with nearly one in three children experiencing severe physical punishment.

UNICEF Chief of Education, Saadhna Panday-Soobrayan, stated this in Abuja, at a two-day National Awareness Creation Meeting on Ending Corporal Punishment in schools, organised by the Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria (TRCN) in collaboration with UNICEF.

Panday-Soobrayan described the discussion on ending corporal punishment in schools as “difficult and heart-breaking,” stating, however, that the presence of participants at the meeting was a testament to Nigeria’s determination to uphold every child’s right to safety, well-being and quality, inclusive education.

The UNICEF chief said: “Yesterday, we confronted the harrowing reality that 85 per cent of children between the ages of one and 14 in Nigeria experience violent discipline, with nearly one in three children experiencing severe physical punishment. This is a staggering statistic, one that demands urgent action and is indicative of a crisis!

“Much of this violent discipline takes place in the form of corporal punishment in the very institutions that are entrusted to keep children safe, develop respect for human rights and prepare them for life in a society that promotes understanding, peace, and conflict resolution through dialogue.”

According to her, the persistence of these practices contradicted Nigeria’s National Policy on Safety, Security and Violence-Free Schools, that committed to zero-tolerance to any threat to the security of life and property in schools.

Panday-Soobrayan also noted that the practice was “stalling Nigeria’s progress toward SDG 3 to ensure good health and well-being, SDG 4 on equitable and inclusive quality education and target 16.2 (to end abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children).”

Noting that the impact of corporal punishment on children was devastating, she said children are left with both physical and psychological wounds.

She added that “physical punishment causes not only pain, sadness, fear, shame, and anger but is also linked with children’s hyperactivity to stress, changes in brain structure and function, and overloaded nervous, cardiovascular and nutritional systems. Spanking, just like more severe abuse, is linked to atypical brain function.”

She added: “The damage is not only acute, affecting their learning in the current moment, but also chronic. A large body of research links physical punishment with long-term disability or death; mental ill-health; impaired cognitive and socio-emotional development; school dropout and poorer academic and occupational outcomes; increased anti-social behaviour, aggression, and criminal behaviour in adulthood; and damaged relationships through its intergenerational transmission.”

Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, who was represented by Hajia Binta Abdulkadir, endorsed the action plan and roadmap for ending corporal punishment in schools in line with the Child’s Rights Act passed into law in 2003, protecting children’s right to a life free of violence.

Adamu noted that globally, there was evidence indicating that corporal punishments in schools have impacted negatively on attendance and learning and outcomes.

Registrar of TRCN, Prof. Josiah Ajiboye, stated that globally, there was a paradigm shift from corporal punishment in schools because of its effect on pupils, adding that the practise had been proven to be ineffective, dangerous and an unacceptable method of controlling and maintaining behaviour and discipline.

Ajiboye said corporal punishment brings negative rather than positive consequences in the whole process of teaching and learning.

He said the meeting was organised to share and discuss evidence on the negative impact of corporal punishment on children and learning outcomes, well as discuss and agree on a set of national and state specific strategies/interventions for ending corporal punishment in schools in Nigeria.

The TRCN boss noted, however, that more effort needed to be made to educate parents and teachers on the implication of corporal punishment as well as the alternatives that are available to them.

World Bank Senior Education Specialist, Prof. Tunde Adekola, said the global bank believed that there was a correlation between learning poverty and corporal punishment, stressing that the urgency of implementing the action plan against corporal punishment in schools.

Adekola also called for a coalition of stakeholders from the states and local governments as well as non-state actors, civil society organisations, and others to implement action against corporal punishment.

He added that the action plan being developed should have a baseline, verifiable and clear definition of roles to be able to measure the success of implementation.