A teacher in Tanzania who beat a student so severely that he died from his injuries was on Wednesday sentenced to death by a court in Bukoba, a town in the north-west of the country.
The victim, Sperius Eradius, a 13-year-old primary school pupil, died last August in the northern Kagera province, a few days after being beaten by the school teacher.
The 51-year-old teacher, Respicius Mtazangira, had accused him of stealing another teacher’s handbag
The case sparked outrage and reignited the debate on corporal punishment in schools in Tanzania
Delivering his ruling, Judge Lameck Mlacha found Mtazangira “guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of voluntary homicide” and sentenced him to death.
The judge added that the teacher had acted maliciously when he repeatedly hit the child with a blunt object, the BBC reports.
When news broke about the boy’s death last August at Kibeta Primary school in Bukoba town, hundreds of people protested and called for justice
The deceased’s parents refused to bury their son until authorities arrested the teacher and suspended the head of the school, the AFP reported at the time.
The Tanzania Media Women’s Association (TAMWA), a civil society organisation, also described the act as “cruel and inhumane”, and hoped that “beatings and murders at school will not be repeated”.
The group further highlighted a 2016 case in which a female student was forced to take off her underwear before being caned by four teachers. She was being punished over alleged serial absenteeism
Corporal punishment is allowed under a 1979 law in Tanzania, but it should be done in a “reasonable manner” and be focused on the hands or buttocks with the use of a light and flexible rod.
A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report cited by the AFP said, “Widespread corporal punishment… often takes brutal and humiliating forms in Tanzanian schools,” and asked the government to ban the beatings.
Ummy Mwalimu, Tanzania’s minister in charge of “health, community development, gender, senior and children”, expressed shock at the time of the boy’s death and ordered an investigation.
Many human rights groups also asked that teachers found culpable in such criminal acts should be sanctioned to serve as a deterrent.
Mtazangira’s judgement might be rare but he has the right to appeal. According to the BBC, Tanzania has not carried out an execution since 1994 even though death sentences can be handed down by law.
Recently, human rights bodies called for the abolition of the death penalty as it was against the fundamental right – the right to live. The call came at a time when the number of inmates sentenced to death in the country kept rising
In response, the Law Reform Commission of Tanzania said that several pieces of research on the same subject it conducted showed that a majority wanted capital punishment to stay.
“If my memory serves me right, we have about three reports compiled from researches conducted on the same subject. In all the reports, majority of Tanzanians called for upholding of the sentence,” the Commission’s Executive Secretary, Casmir Kyuki, said in October 2017.
“The law states clearly that if one is proven beyond reasonable doubt of committing murder, he/she should also be subjected to death penalty. However, commuting the sentence is again vested in the powers of the President,” he said.
“The President, under the powers vested upon him by the constitution, can let inmates on death row serve life imprisonment sentences or thirty years instead of signing execution warrant,” he explained.
Meanwhile, Heriet Gerald, the female teacher whose handbag the boy was accused of stealing, was not found guilty of committing an offence.