As students at senior secondary schools go on the rampage, beating up teachers, there is a finger of blame that is pointed at Child Line Botswana, which is the country’s premier child rights organisation. Received wisdom is that Childline is one of the main reasons why today’s children misbehave in the egregious manner they do: at Madiba Senior Secondary School in Mahalapye, a male student hit a teacher hard across the face in front of other students and at Moshupa Senior Secondary School, three wayward students allegedly planned to murder teachers. One is said to be capable of actually doing so because he has demonstrated penchant for extreme violence.
Onkgopotse Thobega of Child Line Botswana is aware of widespread belief that his organisation encourages children to misbehave. His first reaction is not to counter such belief but explain its origins. He says that when the child rights movement gained traction in Botswana, rights were continually stressed over responsibilities. As to whether that is still the case, he says that Child Line stresses both rights and responsibilities.
The earlier missteps notwithstanding, Thobega dismisses the charge that Child Line is responsible for the misconduct of students.“That has nothing to do with Child Line,” he says. “A child who received proper parental guidance would never beat up a teacher. I also went to school and know that if a teacher punishes you excessively, you report to the headmaster. You don’t take the matter into your own hands by beating up the teacher. A student who does so would not have received proper guidance from home and it is important to realise that Child Line doesn’t interfere in how parents raise their children.”
Child rights activists have been known to frown upon corporal punishment – which is lawful in Botswana. Child Line falls outside that group. Thobega says that the Children’s Act doesn’t prohibit corporal punishment – for that reason, Child Line doesn’t oppose corporal punishment. He adds though that where it is administered, such punishment should not amount to child abuse. “Disciplining a child and abusing it are two very different things.”