Physical punishment in Nigerian secondary school
: A children's rights perspective

  • Lovina Emejulu

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Nigeria has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) along with other international and regional treaties and has prohibited physical punishment in schools in domestic law. Despite these instruments, Nigerian children still experience these practices due to cultural and religious acceptance of it as an effective means of child upbringing and discipline. Many Nigerians, and indeed many countries across Africa and the majority world, see the UNCRC and the international human rights framework as a form of cultural imperialism that imposes a Western concept of human rights on countries with different norms and cultural values. As a result, conflicts arise between the prevalent cultural and religious beliefs about physical punishment and the child’s right to be protected from physical discipline.

The research aimed to explore students’ and teachers’ perceptions and experiences of physical punishment against the backdrop of Nigeria’s obligation to protect the right of the child from all forms of violence. This research explored the rationale for physical punishment, students and teachers’ perceptions of physical punishment and its legal prohibition, as well as cultural traditions, and religious acceptance of this practice in relation to the Convention’s principles. The research was located within an ongoing philosophical debate between the universality of human rights and theories of cultural relativism. Interviews, school observations, focus groups and open-ended questionnaires were used to elicit information from teachers and students in two mixed gender secondary schools in Anambra state, Nigeria. The schools included one public (government) owned rural school, and one privately owned urban school in order to explore the differences in the use of physical punishment in public and private, and in urban and rural secondary schools in Nigeria.

The findings suggest that all child participants had experienced and/or witnessed physical punishment. Abuse of power, physical and sexual exploitations were found in the public school. Almost all children and teachers were unaware of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and Nigeria’s Child’s Rights Act. The strong cultural traditions and religious beliefs that continue to dominate Nigerians’ beliefs about physical punishment hamper full acceptance and enforcement of children’s rights principles. The research concludes that other social, political and economic factors may also contribute to the prevalent use of physical punishment of children in Nigeria. The research suggests that cultural traditions are neither adequate to protect children’s rights nor can bestow on children the necessary security and protection in their communities as claimed by cultural relativists.

Date of AwardJul 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorLaura Lundy (Supervisor) & Alison MacKenzie (Supervisor)

Cite this