Sunday, April 21, 2024

PEOPLE & THINGS: Views on flogging


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The recent public debate about corporal punishment in Barbados has been informed by the opinions of parents, educational elites and commentators who have a particular interest in the issue.

This level of discourse is important; however, it is equally important that the discussion benefit from a perspective on the views and opinions of Barbadians as a whole. While this type of data is useful, it is important to understand both the limitations and mechanics of public support for and opposition to issues.

Certainly the lack of public support for an initiative does not necessarily mean that policymakers should not act on the initiative. In several instances the public gives or withholds their support for some initiative because they have been misinformed, are prejudiced in some negative way or perhaps haven’t taken the time to fully understand an issue.

In such cases it is the responsibility of either specialists or those who have taken the time to become better informed to guide public discourse and certainly some of this has been happening here. Notwithstanding, it is useful to note how the public feels about an issue and the nuances of public support, since it is either an appreciation or a mis-appreciation of public opinion that can motivate policymakers to act.

In the case of Barbados, we are fortunate that this issue has received the continuous attention of UNICEF which has commissioned CADRES to track public opinion on this issue since 2004. As such we have both a clear understanding of how Barbadians feel on the issue and moreover how such feelings have changed overtime.

The appended chart presents this opinion in a way that allows one to understand the nuances of our perspective since respondents were asked about their views on corporal punishment in both the home and school.

It can be seen that Barbadians have a different attitude to corporal punishment when administered in these places and moreover they are more inclined to support the retention of such punishment in the home, but increasingly oppose it in the school.

It is interesting that in 2004 a significant proportion of Barbadians supported corporal punishment in both the home and school. In the business of public opinion, support levels which are in the vicinity of 70 per cent are normally reflective of what can be termed overwhelming public support which would mean that a majority of people within the main demographic categories here would be expected to support corporal punishment.

It is interesting, however, to note that on the second occasion that public opinion was measured (2009), support for it had fallen and significant differences emerged between support levels for such punishment in the home and school. It was also at this point that support patterns started to emerge and solidify, which reflected greater support for corporal punishment among women and older persons.

The most recent UNICEF/CADRES survey demonstrates that at present exactly half of Barbadians interviewed support the retention of corporal punishment in the educational environment, while support for the retention of corporal punishment in the home is relatively unchanged over the ten-year period.

It is clear from the data that there has been a significant decline in support for corporal punishment in school over the survey period and now equal quantities of Barbadians support and oppose this punishment.

The trajectory is clear and suggests that opposition to corporal punishment is growing and shortly an increasing majority of Barbadians will object to the use of corporal punishment in schools.

In colloquial terms it can be said that Barbadians wish to reserve the right to corporally punish their children at home, while an increasing quantity do not want the use of such punishment on their children in schools.

The data will perhaps serve as a vindication to the “retentionists” who take comfort in the fact that a majority of Barbadians feel the way they do. At the same time, such persons need to note that public opinion is moving decisively against the retention of corporal punishment in schools and at this rate it will be difficult to sustain in the face of anticipated public opinion in another ten years.

In addition the regions from which opposition is growing is also important and here it is noteworthy that younger people and those who are better educated are more inclined to oppose corporal punishment in both the home and school. This effectively means that as younger people grow older and increasing numbers are exposed to tertiary education it is likely that opposition to this form of punishment will further grow and solidify.

• Peter W. Wickham is a political consultant and a director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES).


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