Saturday, August 22, 2009

In this morning's The West Australian newspaper there is an article on a woman in Malaysia who has been sentenced to six strokes with a rattan cane by a sharia court for drinking alcohol which breaches sharia law. She will be the first woman to be caned in a Malaysian jail. Amnesty International has urged authorities to revoke the sentence and abolish the practice. The woman is described as a model and a mother of two and says she is prepared to accept the punishment. She will be caned in jail next week.

What disturbs me is that the Islamic authorities describe caning as education not punishment. I trained as a secondary school teacher in the days when the cane - a much thinner version than that used in Malaysian judicial punishment - was still used in schools. On one occasion I was working in the deputy principal's office when a boy was sent for punishment. I did not actually see the blows struck but I will never forget the sound of the cane and the boy's white face as he walked out past me. After that I never sent another child to the office.

In my experience with few exceptions the same group regularly caused trouble and there was little improvement in their behaviour whatever punishment was applied whether they were girls (who did not get caned) or boys (who did). In fact "getting the cuts" was often seen as a badge of honour among the boys. This group of young people had problems of many kinds that needed to be dealt with and for the most part were not, either by society or the school. Caning did not educate them because it did not deal with those problems. Indeed, I suspect, it may have increasingly brutalised them.

Caning does not educate people. It punishes them, and if that's why it is used at least be honest about it.

No comments: