Corporal punishment: Discipline or...

Sep 05 2010


Corporal punishment is a grave violation of fundamental rights of children. While all children need enabling environments to grow up, corporal punishments badly affect their overall behaviour and also hinders psychological growth.

According to a UN report on cruelty against children, every year around 40 million children suffer some type of violence around the world. Modern world has, finally, realised that corporal punishment is inimical to children's growth, and that it's better that students learn without any fear of reprisal.

However, despite its devastating effects, social acceptability of corporal punishment is a serious issue which requires shared strategy to provide an enabling environment to kids so that child-friendly schooling can be introduced.

It is interesting to note that 20 states in the US legally permit corporal punishment in schools even today. On the contrary, corporal punishment is strictly banned in all European countries, and was prohibited in Canada in 2004. In India, the Supreme Court officially banned corporal punishment in schools, but a 2007 study conducted by Indian Ministry of Women and Child Welfare Development, revealed that two out of every three children in 13 states remained victims of some form of torture or rebuke. Unfortunately, it appears that people have accepted it as a necessary evil in the process of their children's education.

Pakistan, sadly, is no exception to this loathsome menace. Although, the Government of Pakistan has formally ratified different UN covenants relating to child rights, including the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990, ground reality has not changed due to official slackness or lack of proper implementation of laws which require instituting subsequent monitoring system to combat all forms of human ignominy in schools.

A report by the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC) claims that 35,000 students drop out of schools every year, and nearly 50 per cent of them run off due to the prevalence of corporal punishment. This is indeed a serious scenario which needs immediate attention of the government, media and civil society organisations so that all forms of humiliation can be eliminated.

The governments of Punjab and Balochistan officially banned corporal punishment in schools in December, 2005, and June, 2010, respectively, yet they have failed to develop subsequent legal and administrative mechanisms besides training the teachers and students about consequences of the practice.

The Punjab Education Foundation (PEF), an autonomous statutory body for promoting education through public-private partnership, has launched a campaign to eradicate all forms of corporal punishment from its 2,000 partner schools working in 29 districts. It is also developing institutional mechanism for promoting public awareness against corporal punishment in partner schools. So far, it has appointed three focal persons, one each in the districts of Lahore, Multan and Rawalpindi, to monitor the situation there, besides including the topic of corporal punishment in its teachers' training curriculum.

However, the foundation is a small entity when compared with government schools which number 64,000. As the private sector enjoys a 34 per cent share in school education, any step taken by the PEF for ending violence in classrooms would be a small step unless and until all schools are on board.

According to a recently conducted field study by the NGO, Plan Pakistan, in Islamabad, Chakwal and Vehari districts to gauge the prevalence of corporal punishment among eight to 18-year-old students and to assess the attitude of different stakeholders, the overall prevalence was found to be alarmingly high at 89 per cent — 91 per cent in government and 86 per cent in private schools.

Surprisingly, religious seminaries surveyed were a little less prone to this menace as prevalence of corporal punishment was 83 per cent there. It was observed that punishment is practised during the eight to 12 years age-bracket and the most common reasons are students' misbehaviour or quarrelling.

The study results presented a gruesome picture of schools and seminaries. The researchers found that harsh punishments are common in almost every setting. Physical violence, psychological violence, emotional violence, use of humiliating words, baton beating, slapping and shaking, bullying, forced to pose in a position as if sitting, confinement in a dark room, food restriction, standing in a hands-up position, name calling or verbal abuse due to differences in caste, religion and general discrimination to humiliate the students, are some of the practices adopted by school teachers to instil 'discipline' in students.

Punishment was found to be different for both sexes. Results also revealed that male students do not perceive standing-up, ear tugging, hair pulling and smacking on the back as punishment, while female students perceived these acts as punishment.