When Zulfiqar accidently spilled a bottle of ink on his classmate, he couldn’t have imagined that it would fundamentally alter the course of his school life. Following the incident, the 10th grade student was verbally reprimanded by his teacher at the High School Shah Yusuf in Shahpur, Sargodha, and was then beaten with a cane.
“I felt humiliated, insulted, fearful and in pain. I came home crying from school that day,” recalls Zulfiqar. Upon seeing the two-inch long scars and bruises across the 15-year-old schoolboy’s body, Zulfiqar’s father, Younus, reported the incident at a police station in Shahpur and also provided them with the requisite medico-legal certificate.
When the police refused to register a First Information Report (FIR), Younus lodged his complaint at the Punjab ombudsperson’s regional office in Sargodha. When this plea also fell on deaf ears, Zulfiqar’s father submitted an application to the National Commission on the Rights of Child (NCRC).
Finally, after receiving a letter from the NCRC, the local police lodged an FIR against the accused under section 328 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and 337L(2) PPC. However, the teacher, Mohammad Shabir, is currently out on bail. No other disciplinary action has been taken against him, and the case remains unresolved. Meanwhile, Zulifqar continues to feel alienated and helpless at his school.
Despite the lasting and harmful effects of corporal punishment on children and regular negative media coverage, it continues to be practised across Pakistan. Effective legislation, implementation and regulation is needed to put a stop to it
Unfortunately, such stories are fairly common in schools across Pakistan, despite constitutional provisions which safeguard the rights of children under Article 25-A and Article 25(3). Corporal punishment is a complex phenomenon which can become a major source of tension between pupils and teachers. It can lead to extreme stress, emotional trauma, physical injuries and, in some cases, suicide. The ramifications of such forms of violence were made evident earlier this year when a 10-year-old student named Zaineb succumbed to the head injuries she received at the hands of her school teacher in Muridke.
Corporal punishment is also a contributing factor for the high dropout rates in Pakistan’s schools. The country has the world’s second-highest number of out-of-school children, with an estimated 22.8 million children aged 5-16 not attending school — and it’s easy to see why.
Imran, a 12-year-old student at a boarding school in Sargodha, was caned every day for seven to eight months by his teachers, allegedly because of his poor academic performance. This physical abuse, coupled with the difficulties he faced following his parents’ separation, prompted Imran to run away from school and begin working at a grocery store. Hence, a tale of corporal punishment was replaced by one of child labour.
Muhammad Zain-ul-Abidin from the Criminology Department at the University of Sargodha cautions against the frequency of corporal punishment in schools. “Recent research by one of my students has revealed that pupils still get caned by teachers in some schools, to maintain classroom discipline. This can cause immense psychological damage to the child and it should be banned by introducing proper legislation and an effective implementing mechanism,” he says.
In Pakistan, corporal punishment is still practised in some schools, alternative care settings, daycare centres and some penal institutions. Since Section 89 of the PPC allows for the use of corporal punishment, it encourages parents, guardians and teachers to physically chastise children. Although the Islamabad High Court (IHC) has suspended Section 89 of the PPC, other regions need to follow suit. These provisions need to be homogenised across all four provinces if Pakistan truly wishes to adopt a cohesive framework aimed at eradicating such forms of punishment.
Problems and confusions arise when these provisions vary from region to region. For instance, Article 33 of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Child Protection and Welfare Act 2010 states that, “Corporal punishment stands abolished in all its kinds and manifestations and its practise in any form is prohibited as provided under section 89 of the Pakistan Penal Code, 1860.”
On the other hand, Article 35 of the Punjab Destitute and Neglected Children Act 2004 states, “Provided that where some punishment is administered to a child by the person having lawful control or custody of the child, for any good or sufficient reason, it shall not be deemed to be an offence under this section.”
The Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) and Sindh promulgated the Capital Territory Prohibition of Corporal Punishment Act, 2021 and the Sindh Prohibition of Corporal Punishment Act in 2016 to prohibit corporal punishment in all settings, including educational institutions, child care institutions, rehabilitation centres and the juvenile justice system. A notification was also issued by the Punjab government in 2018 which, besides banning corporal punishment in schools, defines the term as any punishment in which physical force is used to cause some degree of pain and discomfort, however light.
However, there are two major caveats within this notification. Firstly, it uses a ministerial directive instead of proper legislation to try and curb corporal punishment. Secondly, the notification only refers to five to 16 year-olds in public and private schools, thus failing to account for all of the children in Punjab. Therefore, due to inadequate enforcement, an increased likelihood of corporal punishment has been noticed in schools in Punjab.
In light of this, the Director of Policy, Planning, and Institutional Effectiveness at the Ministry of Human Rights, Dr. Malik Hammad Ahmad, states, “Corporal punishment is cowardice on behalf of the teachers and it strongly impacts the psychological and physical health of students. Hence, the corporal punishment bill in Punjab has to be instated as soon as possible.”
RIGHTS OF THE CHILD
Pakistan has been a party to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) since 1990. Article 19 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child urges member states to take “all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.”
While acknowledging the steps Pakistan has taken to tackle this menace, the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) urged the government to ban all forms of corporal punishment in its 2016 report. Pakistan has also received recommendations from various human rights bodies about this issue, with the Committee Against Torture urging in its 2017 report, “The State party should take the necessary legislative measures to eradicate and explicitly prohibit all forms of corporal punishment in all settings, as they amount to torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, in violation of the Convention.”
The social acceptability of corporal punishment in Pakistan means that the country requires strong legislation in order to ensure a safe and enabling environment for children. The Punjab government needs to introduce the Prohibition of Corporal Punishment Bill alongside honouring the international and national legal framework and commitments regarding child rights.
Syed Ishtiaq Gilani, chairperson of the National Action Coordination Group (NACG) — an apex body of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) — stresses that provincial legislation to safeguard children against corporal punishment should be implemented across all provinces. It is also imperative that adults are educated about the lasting and harmful implications of corporal punishment by conducting workshops on the subject. They have to learn that it is more effective to have an open conversation with children if they misbehave, as opposed to resorting to physical violence.
However, no mandate of child protection can be ensured without the active involvement of intensively trained teachers, and this is vital if Pakistan wishes to reduce instances of corporal punishment. Unfortunately, despite widespread media coverage of several incidents of corporal punishment in schools, the Punjab government has failed to provide relief to complainants due to the absence of effective legislation, implementation and regulation.
Such neglect will not only harm Pakistan’s children but will also irreparably damage the future of the nation as a whole.
The writer is a human rights activist, leadership consultant and member of the National Commission on the Rights of the Child. She earned her doctorate in Leadership Studies from the University of San Diego, US. She tweets @RubinaFBhatti
Published in Dawn, EOS, November 13th, 2022