Adina and her friends laugh and giggle as they play in an empty classroom during a free period. Like most nine-year-olds, owing to childish exuberance, they are oblivious to the uproar emanating from their room in a government Peshawar school.
Unhappy with the commotion, their teacher enters the room, closing the door behind her. She then proceeds to observe strict discipline upon the second graders — with a piece of wood.
“It was the worst day of my life,” recalls a despondent Adina. “Our teacher got angry and started beating us,” she describes, remembering every detail of her ordeal from the grim day.
That day, Adina had gone home complaining of pain, which is when her father took her to a doctor. They were told that she had broken her hand.
With tears streaming down their faces, the children attempted to run away to escape the punishment. To their dismay the door was closed.
“The unnerving incident left a negative impact on Adina,” says her father Naseem Khan, adding that his child is in a state of fear after the incident.
It was with a heavy heart and a fractured hand when Adina decided that she wasn’t going to go back the government girls’ primary school in Pawakai. The ordeal left her with little choice.
Local students lack options if they want to change schools. Residents of Pawakai prefer government schools to private ones for their children, as public institutions tend to hire more female teachers.
This dearth of alternatives results in hundreds of children like Adina being subjected to corporal punishment,
Among the hundreds is Afshan, a 14-year-old ninth grader at a government girls’ school in Peshawar's Pakha Ghulam.
Afshan relates what transpired when, a couple of months ago, she forgot to complete her homework.
“My teacher got angry and started beating me with a piece wood on my back, bottom and hands,” she says, her eyes filling with tears. She recalls that no one stood up to defend her.
Afshan’s father demanded accountability and submitted a written complaint to the District Education Officer. He waited several months before learning that no had looked into the complaint. They were eventually compelled to resolve the issue through a Jirga.
Unlike Afshan and Adina’s fathers, some parents tend to exacerbate the issue by encouraging corporal punishment. They refuse to pay heed to studies conducted by
Ignoring research and studies that outline the grave dangers of corporal punishment, parents like Yousuf Ali often attribute children's bad habits to television and the Internet and feel physical discipline is a necessary means to keep "culture and customs intact".
Ali, a father of three, permits teachers to physically reprimand his children, often resorting to similar punishment at home when they misbehave with him or his wife.
Mirajuddin, a teacher at a government school in Swat, claims a majority of the parents at the time of admission express a willingness to allow teachers to use physical means as a tool of submission.
He cites "a lack of respect towards teachers, parents and elders" as an excuse for corporal punishment. Mirajuddin, who isn’t averse to using the same methods on his own children, feels it is the only option in such a situation.
Society for the Protection of the Rights of Children (Sparc) says that the situation is worsening at government schools. Despite the KP government declaring a ban on corporal punishment in the province, number of cases are on the rise.
The area manager of Sparc, Jahanzeb Khan, reveals that a majority of parents and relatives preferred not to register a report against the teacher in a case of a beating. Opting to resolve the matter through local traditions seems to be a common practice.
Khan hopes to minimise corporal punishment by training teachers and creating awareness among faculty members.
Teachers’ psychological, financial and personal problems are often the main reasons behind a large number of corporal punishment cases. Khan explains that a lack of checks, balances and regulations add to the growing problem.
Under the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), any form of corporal punishment is banned, including at schools. However, a section of the same law allows for 'light' punishment, Khan clarifies.
“A notification has no legal cover, we need proper legislation,” Khan stresses, citing the KP government's notification banning physical punishment as insufficient. Despite hundreds of complaints registered every year, the government has yet to take action against a single teacher.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government has established a complaint cell to discourage physical punishment and abuse in schools. According to the cell a majority of these complaints come from Abottabad (14), as opposed to Tank (1), which registers the least.
Explaining the operation of the complaint cell, an official of the Directorate of Education, KP, said that the unit operated from 8am to 10pm daily. The on-duty official notes the name, address, CNIC and cell number of the complainant. The complaint is then forwarded to the relevant department or officer within 24 hours for further inquiry, explains deputy director Iftikhar Shamozai.
According to Shamozai the government and education department takes physical punishment in schools very seriously. However, in major cases social customs become a hurdle in regards to inquiries, as at times complainants would not stand by their claims.
Shamozai clarified that parents or relatives would lodge a complaint and then retract it, as they would “resolve the issue through a Jirga or a local gathering.”
Regardless of training sessions from NGOs such as Sparc or any government legislation, the matter of corporal punishment needs to be addressed at the core. Communities, rather than just lecturers, also need to be educated on alternative forms of discipline. Till then, physical methods of punishment will remain a detriment to adolescents’ education and their personal development.
Illustration by Dawn.com.