NationalVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 04

Corporal punishment: waiting for more tragedies?

In good old days, as the new generation is mostly told, parents would themselves hand over their children to teachers while uttering a famous adage: “Aj se hadiyan hamari, maas tumhara”. Literally that means “From today, bones are ours, and the skin is for you”.

Metaphorically speaking, parents would tell the teacher that he was fully permitted to punish his students physically if they did not pay attention to studies. Only breaking of bones should be avoided, but there was no objection to beatings even to the extent of peeling off the skin, fathers would tell the teachers. And hence the beginning of a culture of the use of rods, fists and kicks in the classrooms. You can meet even today a number of old generation people who would tell you tales of school beatings proudly.

However, with the changing times, a huge majority of parents have changed their mindsets. They no more approve of corporal punishment, especially if it can result in the death of a student. Recently, an incident shook entire society when a 10-grade student’s “beating to death” by his teacher was reported by the electronic and print media. Hafiz Hunain Bilal, a student at a private school in the Gulshan-e-Ravi area of Lahore, was tortured to death by his computer teacher as he had failed to memorise his lesson.

The case registered by the area police reads: “The teacher punched him repeatedly, grabbed him by his hair and hit his head against a wall, all the while yelling at him”. As a result, the boy collapsed in the classroom, and died instantly. It also emerged that the teacher was in the habit of beating students. Some six months back, he was fired from service on the charge of beating students, but he returned, only to kill a student.

Though death due to corporal punishment is a rare incident, we keep reading various news items in dailies and listening to such incidents on television channels every other day that a teacher broke a hand, an arm, a leg, a teeth or some other part of a student’s body. Mostly, people take it as a societal norm or a routine that corporal punishment is part and parcel of getting education in schools. Even the Pakistani law also allows corporal punishment in schools. The Section 89 of the PPC (Pakistan Penal Code 1860) empowers parents, teachers and other guardians to use corporal punishment as a means to discipline and correct the behaviour of under-12 children. However, reads the section further, such punishment is required to be moderate and reasonable.

Dr. Shireen Mazari, Federal Minister for Human Rights, sees the death of Hunain Bilal as a horrific incident. In a telephonic conversation with Cutting Edge, she says it was not the first incident to happen in schools of Pakistan. She regretted that a bill against corporal punishment had been pending with the law ministry for vetting for the past four years. She hoped that it would be cleared soon. The minister says the state’s failure to protect its children stems from its inability to address corporal punishment effectively, be it through official policy or through a structured national narrative aimed at stigmatising and eventually outlawing violence against children.

However, she adds, since the 18th Amendment, the Centre devolved certain subjects to the provinces and constitutionally empowered them to legislate on a wide range of matters. Child protection and corporal punishment are among the areas that the provinces can directly legislate on. But it is painful to note that even after the passage of the 18th Amendment almost eight years ago, no specific law exists in the Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or Balochistan that outlaws the physical and/or mental torture of students at the hands of their teachers. Sindh is the only province that has a dedicated law against corporal punishment (enacted in March 2017), though it is also not in practice fully. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, under Sections 34 and 35 of the KP Child Rights Act, all forms of corporal punishment are prohibited. Again, not implemented in letter and spirit.

As far as the Punjab is concerned, there is no specific, formal law in the province that criminalises all kinds of physical and mental torture against children. The provincial government has been trying to address the crisis only with a standing administrative order issued under the slogan of “Maar Nahi Pyar” (affection, not beatings). The order was issued by the Punjab Education Department in 2005, under then-military ruler Pervez Musharraf’s regime.

Punjab Minister for Human Rights and Minorities Affairs Ejaz Alam Augustine blames the previous rulers for the situation. Talking to Cutting Edge by telephone, he claims that the Punjab ruling alliance as well the opposition parties have now reached a consensus that they will legislate on corporal punishment. A bill will be moved in the Punjab Assembly to end corporal punishment in educational institutes, he promises.

However, there is no guarantee that teachers would stop smacking students as soon some laws are enacted in the Centre as well as provinces. Parents might have changed their mindsets about physical punishment to children in schools, but teachers have not. A study launched by the education campaign, Alif Ailaan, recently revealed that over 70pc of teachers in the country agree with the statement that corporal punishment is useful in imparting education.

The Voice of Teachers, the study on Pakistani teachers, was conducted by the Society for the Advancement of Education, in partnership with Alif Ailaan. The study is based on an extensive survey of more than 1,250 teachers and head teachers in government and private schools across the country. The survey interviewed 1,264 teachers (823 teachers and 441 head teachers) from 634 government and private schools in 15 districts, covering urban and rural areas in all four provinces.

Saman Naz, Alif Ailaan’s research director, agrees that widespread use of corporal punishment affects a child’s willingness to go to school and their behaviour in the classroom. However, she terms it worrisome that teachers across the board seem to view corporal punishment as useful. Sharing the study findings with Cutting Edge at a workshop, Ms Naz says an overwhelming majority of teachers (73%) either agree or strongly agree with the statement that corporal punishment is useful. Overall, the proportion of private school teachers (78%) who strongly agree exceeds that of government teachers (73%).

That means, it’s not simply a matter of legislation but also a change of the mindset and behaviour. Teachers will have to be told scientifically that corporal punishment damages children’s development. Sociologists and psychologists say children, who are sad, confused, anxious or angry, cannot concentrate on the work or play they need for developing their potential. Researches show that children, who are disciplined at home in alternative ways, without being hurt, do better at school than others whose parents or teachers use physical punishment.

During teacher trainings, preaching the teachers would not be sufficient that corporal punishment is damaging for the development of students. They will also have to be given some alternatives to impart lessons to their students effectively.

Experts say praising students could be an alternative to corporal punishment. If you praise children when they obey or do things well, this encourages them to model their behaviour on positive reinforcements. Praise also encourages them to learn self-discipline.

Secondly, restorative justice involves both victim and offender in a meeting aimed at planning a way to repair any harm caused. These techniques have been successfully used by school governing bodies seeking alternative punishments in the school system in various countries.

Teachers can use guidance and counselling methods more effectively with older children. In these situations, call on a relative if needs be, one with whom a child has a special relationship or an older person in the family or community for whom the child really has respect. Ask this person to discuss the negative effects on your child’s behaviour with your child, and to provide guidance on what the expectations of the child are.

Experts believe this is an area which needs a lot of efforts yet. All concerned, parents, teachers, society representatives, government authorities and departments would have to play a proactive role if we want to provide a corporal punishment-free environment in our educational institutions.