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Pakistan Needs Effective Legislation To End The Practice Of Corporal Punishment

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Bisma Khan writes that children need both social and legal protection from all kinds of abuse, and it is the duty of the state to legislate laws that would help safeguard the interests of children and protect them from those who have the power to harm them.

Owing to several disturbing incidents of corporal punishments being reported in the media, the recent being about a student Hunain Iqbal, it has become mandatory to legislate against this practice in educational institutions.

Corporal punishment is so widespread in our society that it is rarely regarded as an unethical activity. Most even actively encourage the use of physical punishment as a way to discipline a child, whether in a classroom or at home.

This support is bred by the cultural belief that adults hold full authority over the lives of children that makes it permissible for them to use force if the child commits an act that the adult disapproves of.

With the advent of social media, more incidents and videos of young children being mercilessly beaten by their teachers have surfaced, thus turning the issue of corporal punishment into a national debate. An increasing number of people are getting convinced that this practice has a damaging impact on the well-being of a child, including on physical and psychological levels.

A study conducted by Alif Ailan in 2016 showed that 70 per cent of teachers in Pakistan considered corporal punishment to be beneficial. The cultural notion that teachers and parents hold the authority to abuse children and the fact that most teachers are overburdened with work, can lead to adults venting out their frustrations on children.

This high percentage is reflective of the woeful condition of teachers who are ignorant of the disastrous effects that corporal punishment has on a child’s psyche. The Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (Sparc) revealed that corporal punishment is one of the main reasons for the high dropout rate among students.

Currently, around 22.5 million Pakistani children are out-of-school which is nothing less than a crisis that needs prompt attention from our policymakers and educationists.

For a country that is constantly embroiled in a struggle to increase its abysmally low literacy rate and prevent students from dropping out, ignoring one of the main reasons for the falling numbers is nothing but shortsightedness, even though the problem can be effectively addressed by adopting the right kind of approach.

Contrary to the prevalent belief that physical punishment helps discipline children by instilling fear in them, children actually become more fearful of schools and teachers due to punishment. For young minds to thrive and learn to their full capacity, adults need to provide a friendly and supportive environment that facilitates their learning and help them value knowledge above other things.

What corporal punishment does is the exact opposite. The victim child becomes anxious, fearful and angry in the abusive environment. Children develop their behaviour from their surroundings. If an adult having close association to a child exhibits intolerant and violent behaviour, the child would emulate the same, thus setting off a chain of abusive behaviour. Humiliation and physical pain breaks down a child and undermine their self-confidence.

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The prime reason why Pakistan is unable to curb this abusive classroom culture is lack of laws that would put an end to this human rights violation committed in the guise of discipline and care. We should understand that abuse never comes from a place of care. The officials are quick to offer condolences and condemnations, but these shall remain empty words unless they are backed by proper legislation to apprehend those who misuse their authority. What Pakistan has done in this connection leaves a lot to be desired.

The Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) states in Section 89:

“Nothing which is done in good faith for the benefit of a person under twelve years of age, or of unsound mind, by or by consent, either express or implied, of the guardian or other person having lawful charge of that person, is an offence by reason of any harm which it may cause, or be intended by the doer to cause or be known by the doer to be likely to cause harm to that person.”

The exceptions given in this section are those acts that are done to intentionally cause or attempt to cause death or voluntarily causing or attempting to cause grievous hurt, which means that the section allows for mild physical punishments and censure by parents or guardians or by a third person with their consent.

The section that somewhat deals with the issue is Article 328-A of Criminal Law (Second Amendment) Act, 2016, that reads:

“Whoever willfully assaults, ill-treats, neglects, abandons or does an act of omission or commission, that results in or have potential to harm or injure the child by causing physical or psychological injury to him shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than one year and may extend up to three years, or with fine which shall not be less than Rs25,000 and may extend up to Rs50,000, or with both.”

However, hitting children for their own good is so deeply rooted in our culture that the situation necessitates a special formal law that criminalises corporal punishments and sets severe penalties for the commission of the offence.

Sindh has fared better than other provinces in this regard and has passed a special legislation, called Sindh Prohibition of Corporal Punishment Act 2016, to criminalise corporal punishments in institutions. The act sought to criminalise extreme disciplinary measures adopted by teachers at schools. Section 3(3) reads:

“Disciplinary measures concerning the child can only be taken in accordance with the child’s dignity, and under no circumstances corporal punishments, or punishments which relate to the child’s physical and mental development or which may affect the child’s emotional status are allowed.”

The Act set minor as well as major penalties in addition to those given in PPC. The Act, although commendable, is not being implemented in the province, thus allowing abuse cases to go unreported.

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Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) relies on KP Child Protection and Welfare Act 2010. According to Section 33 of the Act:

“Corporal punishment stands abolished in all its kinds and manifestations and its practice in any form is prohibited as provided under Section 89 of the Pakistan Penal Code, 1860.”

The punishment for the offence provided in Section 34 is s follows:

“Imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months or with fine which may extend to Rs50,000, or with both.”

Despite the Act, the KP government is struggling to abolish the concept of physical punishments from educational institutions.

Meanwhile, Punjab has no formal law against abuse of children and relies on an administrative order issued during the time of Musharraf regime to prevent corporal punishment. The order requires the schools, both private and government, to take action against offending teachers but fails to explain the scope of the offence and its punishment.

In Balochistan, a notification by the provincial education department was issued at the beginning of 2019 that banned corporal punishment in all schools and threatened disciplinary proceedings for transgressors. But no special laws have been formulated in this connection so far.

Islamabad Capital Territory Child Protection Act 2018 was passed to protect children from mental and physical violence but extends only to the federal territories and does not lay down specific punishment for the offence.

Prohibition of Corporal Punishment Act 2010 was moved by member of National Assembly (MNA) Dr Attiya Inayatullah, but failed to become a law on technical grounds despite being unanimously passed by the National Assembly.

Similarly, the Prohibition of Corporal Punishment Act 2014 was moved by Marvi Memon and Leila Khan that sought to not only criminalise corporal punishment but to also make the offence punishable by imprisonment up to one year or fine up to Rs50,000, or both. Unfortunately, the bill failed to reach fruition.

In any civilised society, the weak are protected by the strong. Therefore, our children need both social and legal protection from all kinds of abuse.

It is the duty of the state to legislate laws that would help safeguard the interests of children and protect them from those who have the power to harm them. We must not be delusional to believe that broken and dejected children would grow up to build a strong nation.

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