Nigeria: Tackling Corporal Punishment Through Art

Lagos — Children, the world over, have ways of expressing their thoughts and opinions about certain issues, which have to do with their welfare. In the past, conventions had been held, where experts gathered to deliberate on welfare without having to hear their side of the story. It was thus little wonder when they gathered over the weekend to air their views on corporal punishment through art.

Tagged "Whip Not Child," the exhibition was part of an international art project put together by foreign based and Nigerian artistes including Chidi Kwubiri (Germany), Mike Omoighe (Nigeria), award winning musician, Ade Bantu (Nigeria/Germany), Uche Iroha (Nigeria) and Emma Enyang (Nigeria) in interaction with children and youths in Nigeria.

The topic was addressed as one that is just as up to date as it is highly charged: corporal punishment and child abuse in Africa, particularly in schools and other educational institutions. Both issues are seen as global problems, especially given the fact that despite the 1989 United Nations Convention on Rights of the Child in Africa, as well as other continents, corporal punishment and violence against children still go on uninhibited. Studies show that today's children and youths are subject to such punishments as beatings with sticks, whips or belts, though the physical and psychological injuries and the lasting damage these punishments inflict are well known.

Children are particularly powerless in the face of violence by educators as they are not only physically, but also legally defenceless. To this end, more initiatives and organisations are being created worldwide to protect children's rights and to promote the public awareness it will require remedying what has come to be regarded as injustice. The "Whip Not Child" project seeks to contribute to this movement by using art, as an international language, to draw attention to the problem.

The project, by a group of Nigerian artists, combined art and documentation, culture and social awareness to send home the message of child abuse in the form of corporal punishment. Together, the artists seek to focus on educational practices in schools and children's homes and present their findings, supplemented by school children's artistic expressions as well as works of their own on the topic of corporal punishment and child abuse in the form of an art exhibition.

The project consists of three stages, two of which have already been executed. To start with, the artists visited several schools in Lagos, carrying out workshops with groups of approximately 30 pupils between February 22 and 26.

The workshops, organized for schools situated within the Ajegunle/Apapa axis gave the pupils opportunity to express their own personal thoughts or experience of abuse and humiliation through corporal punishment while also providing them an opportunity to put their thoughts or experiences down in the form of artworks.

After the workshops came the second stage of the project where artworks and documentations were collected and evaluated and the results presented to the public in an exhibition in Lagos. The exhibition which opened on Saturday February 27 was held at the Lagos Civic Centre, situated at Victoria Island. The exhibition comprised several elements including the display of selected works of the children, a documentation of their experiences, display of artworks by artists that draw upon their own autobiographical experiences and impressions of the issue all in a documentary and artistic form. Also at the exhibition, there was a rendition of The Spoken Word.

Under the guidance of artists, they created paintings, photographs, videos and media installations themselves. The concept of the initiative, according to the organizers, transcends the creative work with children and youths as the survey was able to gather authentic information about child abuse in educational institutions, information it hopes to make available to the public.

According to Ade Bantu, the entire project was put together by Chidi Kwubiri, a painter based in Germany for over 20 years. "We feel very dearly about corporal punishment and we feel that it needs to be addressed in a creative manner. Without corporal punishment, we think to look for alternative corrective measures. The challenge here is looking for alternative ways of corrective part of it includes being very patient with the children." Bantu says that there exist alternative corrective measures that can bring out the best in children than flogging. "Sometimes, all we need to do is to explain things to the child and the child will desist from wrong doings. I think engaging them, talking to them and explaining sometimes, all we need to do is to explain things to the child and the child will desist from wrong doings. Citing alternatives for them serves as better corrective measures than whipping the child."

The children too had their own reactions to the issue of flogging as a corrective measure which they put down in picture form as well as in rendition of the spoken word. Following the workshop put together for them by professionals, the children were able to express their views using colour schemes that befit their cause.

The rendition of poems further helped push their cause as the pupils recited series of poems. Some of the paintings by the children carry slogans like "Flogging only make me hardened," "whipping me brigs out the worst in me" and

The poem recited by the kids sent home the message that with flogging, children devise smarter measures of continuing in their offence. The fear of flogging, they said, only lead to them committing more offences like truancy, lying and outright disrespect for authorities.

One of the teachers present at the exhibition confirmed this when he said that sometimes children roam the streets of Lagos at hours when they are supposed to be in classes with their peers because of the fear of being flogged for late coming. He also affirmed that some of his students commit a particular crime because they were flogged for doing such on the first occasion.

Finally, the project will come to a conclusion in a presentation of the project in Germany where an exhibition will be held in late summer 2010. It will include documentation on the workshops, the subsequent exhibition, the response in the press and the public. A catalogue is planned, which will contain the works displayed together with a final report on the art project and supplemental information on corporal punishment and child abuse in Africa. Humanitarian, charitable organizations, political figures, education and business community as well as the media will be expected at the exhibition in Germany to ensure that information gathered will be made accessible and well perceived there.

"Whip Not Child" Project is sponsored by several charitable and non-profit organizations including GTZ Germany, an international cooperation enterprise for sustainable development; IFA Germany, an institute for foreign cultural relations; Rotary Club, Pulheim - Germany; the culture department of the City of Cologne, Germany as well as Goethe Institute, Lagos.

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