FOR a child born in our society, the cycle of violence begins early. The first taste of violence often comes at the hands of teachers who hit the child in ‘good faith’ hoping that the painful lesson will last a lifetime. And it does — in the form of emotional and psychological scars that can have serious repercussions on an individual’s quality of life. The 2019 incident in Lahore in which a merciless beating left Grade 10 student Hunain Bilal dead is an extreme example. But there have been similar cases across the country. The recent passage of a National Assembly bill banning all forms of corporal punishment no matter how “light” is then a welcome step. The law will apply in several settings — formal, informal, private and public childcare institutions related to education, foster care, rehabilitation etc.

Though applicable only in the federal capital, the bill’s passage is a milestone development because it revokes the application of Section 89 of the Pakistan Penal Code that allows the physical abuse of children in “good faith”. The bill categorically and comprehensively defined all forms of physical, emotional and psychological methods of abuse as being punishable. It also acknowledged that corporal punishment contributes to the high school dropout rate. At present, Sindh is the only province with a law, passed in 2017, against corporal punishment. However, due to a number of flaws, the law has remained ineffective in penalising offenders, even though Pakistan is signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, while Article 14 of the Constitution guarantees the dignity of all citizens. A number of studies have noted the long-term impact of corporal punishment on young minds. Research suggests that affected children exhibit aggression and anxiety in their later years while there is also a greater chance of their resorting to violence. With this move, the provinces can follow suit by devising comprehensive laws against corporal punishment, and Sindh can plug the loopholes in its own law and put it into action.

Published in Dawn, February 26th, 2021

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