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Are the days of 'Maula Bux' numbered?

Published Mar 18, 2013 01:15pm

Photo: File/Fayyaz Ahmed

KARACHI: No more contorting the child's body into a 'murgha', no whipping from the frightening cane, notoriously known as the Maula Bux, and no verbal lashing. Children will, it is hoped, no longer be humiliated in class.

"They may not know it, but Malaika and Zohab have saved thousands of Pakistani children from the clutches of sadistic teachers who believe in the adage that you spoiled the child if you spared the rod," says Shehzad Roy.

Roy, a Pakistani singer, was speaking in the wake of a bill to ban corporal punishment which was passed in the National Assembly early last week.

"Malaika, studying in a private school in Lahore, was just five when her teacher threw a pen at her because she was unable to get the child's attention during roll call. It went straight into her right eye and damaged her cornea and led to detachment of the retina," Liaqat Ali, Malaika's father, tells Dawn.com, adding: "She lost her sight forever".

Zohab's hearing became impaired after his teacher boxed him in the ear for indiscipline, thereby damaging his eardrum.

Today it seems the government, which had so far been soft-peddling the issue, has finally made up its mind that physical punishment is no remedy for a recalcitrant child.

Soon after Malaika and Zohab's stories were shown on Roy's television programme Chal Parha, already a runway hit, the Punjab Assembly adopted a resolution for the repeal of Section 89 of the Pakistan Penal Code, which allows guardians to punish children in good faith ‘for their benefit’. The Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies then followed suit.

At the same time, Pakistan Muslim League- Q's legislator Dr Attiya Inayatullah's bill, which calls for criminalising corporal punishment was unanimously passed by the National Assembly. The bill had been tabled back in 2010 and had gone through "three years of rigorous labour".

Talking to Dawn.com, Inayatullah termed the bill's passage "historic". Once it becomes a law (after it is passed in Senate) it will apply "to the whole country," she said.

Roy is jubilant that the first step, at least, has been taken. "No one wants to be cruel to children, but sometimes we lose perspective. My idea was to show a mirror to the adults so that they can see for themselves what kind of hurt physical or verbal punishment can impose on a child," he said.

In the bargain, his highly publicised show probably helped push through the bill which had been tabled in the NA three years ago.

The bill has declared any form of corporal punishment of children in academic institutions illegal. Individuals involved in the acts will be sentenced to one year in prison, Rs 50,000 fine or both.

In addition, Inayatullah also moved a resolution which will be transmitted from the recently dissolved 13th assembly to the 14th one: The resolution urges "them to pass legislation whereby any individual, community or an institution which prevents a girl from going to school will be considered as committing a crime".

Interestingly, education departments had banned corporal punishment in government schools since the mid 1990s. Directives were issued to all government-run schools but unfortunately, the teachers were either never made aware of these orders or they were never taken seriously.

Ironically, the earlier code of conduct found in government schools allowed teachers to use various forms of punishment, including resorting to humiliation, to discipline a child. The bill calls for scrapping that and gives alternatives to discipline an unruly child.

While there are no nation-wide studies to show the exact percentage of children dropping out of schools due to beatings or being humiliated in school, Rashid Aziz of the Islamabad-based Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC), said corporal punishment contributes significantly to the high dropout rate of children from the education system in Pakistan.

Inayatullah, meanwhile, estimated that of the "40 percent of children that drop out of school in Pakistan, almost 30 percent do so for fear of being physically beaten".

But it's not just the beatings in school alone; studies also show that a major reason why children run away from home is to get away from the regular beatings they receive at home.

While childhood abuse isn't the only factor contributing to a violence-plagued society, Dr Asha Bedar, a Karachi-based psychologist,  conceded that a child who is regularly beaten or given verbal lashings both at home and in school, would grow up to resolve differences in a similar manner.

"Yes, child abuse does affect how children resolve conflicts later in life. And that [physical abuse] could certainly be a significant factor in the violence in our society," she told Dawn.com.

However, she was quick to add that not every child who is physically or verbally abused grows up to be violent. "But there is strong evidence to suggest the likelihood increases."

A long way to go

Many people familiar with Pakistan’s school system, however, were sceptical about the passage od the bill.

"Bills will get passed, but does that mean anything?" asks Sami Mustafa, a Karachi-based educationist, adding: "Have they thought about how they will implement it?”

"Malaika, studying in a private school in Lahore, was just five when her teacher threw a pen at her because she was unable to get the child's attention during roll call. It went straight into her right eye and damaged her cornea and led to detachment of the retina," Liaqat Ali, Malaika's father, tells Dawn.com, adding: "She lost her sight forever".
According to Mustafa, even if the ‘Maula Bux’ and ‘Murgha’ tactics are eliminated in schools, how will it be ensured that teachers do not use other tactics to humiliate and degrade the child?

Senior journalist, Zubeida Mustafa, said there are already laws in place for the aggrieved party to take legal recourse, but added, these became useful only if a "child is seriously hurt" like in the case of Malaika, whose father took her school to court.

"We need schools … where teachers are trained and sensitised to the damage that corporal punishment does. Shehzad's programme will certainly bring more awareness but will it stop the punishment? I am not sure," says Zubeida.

What’s been done so far

SPARC, for one, has been doing exactly that in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa since 2009. It has developed manuals to sensitise teachers and school administrations about child rights, about this particular problem and to build the capacity of teachers to providing alternatives to corporal punishment.

These manuals provide training on class room management, positive disciplining and alternatives to such punishment.

"It's quite simple," says Muhammad Imtiaz, national manager at SPARC. "When we did the baseline survey back in 2009 we found that almost 85 percent of the times the child was being beaten up to ‘discipline him’, rather than for academic reasons. So we showed the teachers an alternative, like giving the child more responsibility instead of lashing out at him, throwing him out of the class or beating him."

Imtiaz said the teachers came back with a positive response and said the alternatives worked like magic and they didn't have to resort to harsher methods.

SPARC has completed this training in 75 schools in five of 24 of KP's districts (where there are over 10,000 government schools and 21,000 teachers). They will be working in three more districts and have built up the capacity of almost 5,500 teachers, which probably is just a drop in the ocean.

Imtiaz points out: "It is not possible for us to cover the entire province; we don't have the resources. Our aim is to show a model to the education department so that they can then train the teachers."

Plan Pakistan, which supports Punjab Education Foundation's 2,000 schools has already adopted their model.

According to Imtiaz, the best and quickest approach to awareness would be to include this manual in teacher training provided by the Provincial Institution for Teachers Education (PITE) to in-service teachers when they come for refresher courses. It should also be made compulsory for new teachers to go through it when hired. After KP, PITE in Sindh has also approached SPARC for providing training to their trainers.

In addition, SPARC also succeeded in setting up complaint committees in all the KP schools it worked with. "This is a problem-solving mechanism so that before seeking time-consuming legal recourse, the aggrieved party as well as the school administration can sit and address the issue at the school level. We also asked the government to set up complaint cells at the district levels and today, all the 24 districts have successfully set up these centres," Imtiaz added.