Punishing children

Jul 26 2017

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IN 2006, Pakistan made a commitment to abolish corporal punishment. In the last 11 years, a number of laws on the subject have been passed, but corporal punishment continues to be practised. Videos showing young children being brutally beaten up and injured by teachers are aired frequently on social media, without apparent action taken by the government against the perpetrators.

Corporal punishment is pervasive in Pakistan because of cultural acceptance of a traditional and authoritarian style of parenting. Research conducted by Unicef in 2014 found that 81 per cent of children in Punjab and Sindh had experienced violent disciplining in the month prior to the survey. According to the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child, violence is the key reason for the unacceptably high number of dropouts from school, rendering useless any government efforts to increase enrolment in primary and secondary schools.

A study conducted by Alif Ailaan and the Society for the Advancement of Education found that 70pc of school teachers surveyed were in favour of corporal punishment for students. Sadism tendencies apart, they were overburdened with extracurricular duties and absenteeism of colleagues. Many parents also believe that corporal punishment is useful, unaware that violence inculcates fear, resentment, self-pity, and loss of self-esteem, and results in defiance, aggression, even crime.

Corporal punishment is pervasive because of cultural acceptance.

In Balochistan, KP and the Islamabad Capital Territory, legislation relating to corporal punishment either does not prohibit it or limits it to government schools only. The Sindh Prohibition of Corporal Punishment Act, promulgated in 2017 forbids corporal punishment and humiliating treatment of children under 18 years of age “in workplaces, in schools and other educational institutions including formal, non-formal, and religious, both public and private, in child care institutions including foster care, rehabilitation centres and any other alternative care settings, both public and private, and in the juvenile justice system”.

Only the Gilgit-Baltistan’s Legislative Assembly has passed an act that not only prohibits corporal punishment of children in schools, but also in family settings, a crucial step forward to stop violence against children. It has also taken the act out of the ambit of Section 89 of the Penal Code which permits harm short of grievous hurt to a child less than 12 years of age by a guardian for his/her ‘benefit’.

However, there are other laws still extant that need to be repealed or amended for effective enforcement of prohibition of corporal punishment in the country. For example, in Punjab, the Borstal Act, 1926, permits corporal punishment for males in borstal institutions; the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance 2000 prohibits corporal punishment of children in custody but does not override other laws; the Prisons Act 1894 provides for whipping as a punishment; and it is lawful in alternative care settings under Article 48 of the Sindh Children Act 1955 and Article 35 of the Punjab Destitute and Neglected Children Act 2004.

A 2017 report on Pakistan by Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children states that the Abolition of the Punishment of Whipping Act, 1996, does not apply to Hadd and Hudood offences and this and other corporal punishments are applicable to children from the onset of puberty. Whipping is permissible in the Offence of Qazf (Enforcement of Hadd) Ordinance, 1979, and in the Offence of Zina, and Offences Against Property (Enforcement of Hudood) Ordinance, 1979, while there is also provision of amputation of right hand or/and left foot. Qisas (an eye for an eye) exists, as does the Nizam-i-Adl Regulation 2009 in some parts of KP.

Although some of these laws are partly overruled by others, confusion still remains as recorded in the fifth report on June 3, 2016 of the Committee on the Rights of the Child: “… The committee is seriously concerned that Sharia law allows children to be subjected to punishments for Hudood offences involving amputation, whipping, stoning …”

Corporal punishment is completely prohibited in 52 countries of the world. It is legally allowed in nine — Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Mauritania, Nigeria, Botswana, Tanzania, Guyana, Malaysia and Brunei. Pakistan is one of 92 countries trying to eradicate it. To enforce its anti-corporal punishment legislation, the government needs to bring all laws including the parallel justice systems of panchayats and jirgas in sync with the juvenile justice system and current acts, and repeal all conflicting laws including Section 89 of the Penal Code.

The government must also launch a campaign to counter the prevailing authoritarian culture in Pakistan and create awareness to eliminate corporal punishment through radio and television channels, establish helplines for victims, amend the code of conduct for teachers and initiate training programmes for them to inculcate true learning.

The writer is a former federal secretary.

Published in Dawn, July 26th, 2017