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Tension as 13-year-old boy dies after beating from teacher in Tanzania

Death of Sperius Eradius has led to demands for review of corporal punishment in schools, where violence is widespread.

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Campaigners have urged the Tanzanian government to review corporal punishment in schools after a 13-year-old boy died following a beating by his teacher.

Sperius Eradius, from the northern Kagera province, died on 27 August, a few days after the punishment. Sperius had been accused of stealing from another teacher.

The case is being investigated by Tanzania’s health ministry, while local media reported on Monday that two teachers had been charged with Sperius’s murder.

The case has provoked an outcry from campaigners, who said children are being subjected to degrading and violent punishments.

“We cannot wait. [Children] have human rights. We cannot wait for them to die to change things,” said Sonia Vohito, Africa project coordinator for the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of children. “We need political willingness. The authorities have to take the lead.”

The Tanzania Media Women’s Association (Tamwa) said it hoped the case would bring an end to the use of such violence in schools, and cited other recent incidents where children had been subjected to humiliating beatings. The group described a case in 2016, in which a girl was reportedly forced to remove her underwear before being caned by four teachers.

Tanzania is one of a small number of African countries where corporal punishment is not banned in any setting. President John Magufuli has publicly stated his support for caning children.

Teachers are allowed to strike a pupil up to four times with a light, flexible stick on either the hands or buttocks, while female pupils should only receive punishment from a female teacher. All instances of corporal punishment must be recorded.

But such guidance is often ignored by teachers, according to human rights groups. “This has led to a number of incidents of human rights violations occurring and causing students to lose access to education, disability and loss of life,” Tanzania’s Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC) said in a statement. It has warned of a wider, growing problem of violence against children in schools.

“School is supposed to be a very safe place for students to enjoy their fundamental right to education,” the LHRC said.

Research by Human Rights Watch found widespread violence and harassment in schools. Children reported being caned or beaten for being late, despite having walked for hours to get to school, or for not answering questions correctly. Female students suffered additional humiliation, with girls at one school reporting being hit on the breasts. Girls also face the threat of sexual harassment and assault by teachers.

Vohito said Tanzania’s laws on caning are contrary to its international obligations. While Tanzania is among the “pathfinder” countries committed to ending violence against children, last year it rejected calls to ban corporal punishment.

“[The country] cannot have a law that allows corporal punishment and at the same time be part of an initiative that claims to end violence against children,” said Vohito. She added that better training for teachers was also needed, including guidance on using positive discipline to help students.


Cover photo:  Research by Human Rights Watch found that children reported being caned or beaten for being late, despite having walked for hours to get to school, or for not answering questions correctly. Photo: Alamy Stock Photo

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