by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: koika/WikiCommons/CC BY-SA 3.0

TWO RECENT INCIDENTS highlight how corporal punishment and bullying, sometimes from teachers themselves, continues to be an issue in Taiwan.

The first incident involves 100 fifth-graders being forced to kneel for a minute while a teacher cursed them out during a graduation camp event in Kaohsiung. This took place because the students were noisy in the morning. The school has vowed to investigate the incident, with more than one-third of the 376 students affected by the incident, including some students who were woken up from sleeping.

Parents reported the incident, raising questions about why corporal punishment of students was allowed during the activity. The school in question has stated that it will meet with parents to discuss the matter.

The other incident involves the suicide of a high schooler in Taichung after bullying from other students and school staff members. This took place after the student brought beer and cigarettes to school during his freshman year. As a result, the teachers and other students started to pick on him as a social outcast and a bad example for other students, as well as pressuring him to withdraw from school. Reportedly, the student was also blamed for actions by other students, such as bringing vapes to school or stealing, and he was searched for stolen items.

The high schooler’s father has expressed regret for not believing his child, while criticizing the school for covering up its actions. The Kaohsiung Education Bureau has stated that it is investigating the incident, while calling on the school to make changes. As a result of the incident, seven staff members including the principal of the school have been temporarily suspended. DPP legislator Chang Liao Wan-chien and four DPP city councilors held a press conference on the issue.

Corporal punishment remains widespread in Taiwanese schools, with survey data from 2019 showing that 70% of junior high school students had experienced corporal punishment. A 2022 incident in which a seven-year-old student practicing judo died from a brain hemorrhage after being body-slammed a total of 27 times by his instructor and other students, making international headlines, likely proves to be the most high-profile injury or death caused by corporal punishment in recent years. The teacher continued to body slam the student ten times even after he vomited and lost consciousness. Though an ambulance was called, he was already bleeding from the brain, and died seventy days later.

Photo credit: Fcuk1203/WikiCommons/CC BY-SA 3.0

But while the incident proved an example of violence against students by an instructor, bullying leading to self-harm or suicide also takes place. One notes that, similar to the incident in Taichung involving kneeling, this incident took place because the teacher felt disrespected by students. Other incidents involving corporal punishment reported on in past years include against students at the Yuan Ming Junior High School for violating gendered dress code and at an elementary school in Shilin where a student was made to walk up and down stairs, while being watched by classmates, for failing to turn in an assignment and the results of a temperature check. It is likely that incidents reported on in the media only scratch the surface of what takes place at schools in Taiwan.

Corporal punishment on school campuses is illegal in Taiwan, though it still continues to happen. Nevertheless, corporal punishment is still legal in homes. The Ministry of Justice has introduced new proposed amendments intended to ban corporal punishment in homes, with new text banning “physical or mental violence” as punishable by loss of custody. This is to replace text stating that “parents may, within the limit of necessity, inflict punishment upon their children.”

Survey data from the Humanistic Education Foundation show that 39.2% of parents discipline their children using corporal punishment. The same survey also shows that the majority of parents support banning corporal punishment, with 53.6% supporting a ban if other measures are in place, and 24.1% strongly supporting a ban.

If Taiwan moves ahead with the corporal punishment ban, it will be the fourth country in Asia to issue such a ban. At the same time, if corporal punishment still takes place in schools in Taiwan despite its banning, this makes it all the more likely that corporal punishment will also continue to take place in homes in Taiwan.

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