Senseless punishment – 07 Mar 2023
Corporal punishment is regularly used to discipline children in Pakistan. The latest report by Zindagi Trust reveals some shocking stats: about 75 per cent of schools including public, private, and religious institutions reported that they practice corporal punishment, and around 94 per cent of children reported going through some form of punishment daily.
Corporal punishment affects children regardless of their race, age, sex and social background. However, differently abled, young, and socially marginalized children are more vulnerable. Punishment can include psychological aggression, physical punishment, or other violent and humiliating behaviour as a form of discipline. This includes locking children in the toilet, forcing them to stay in uncomfortable and humiliating positions, hitting or slapping on the face, hands, head or ears.
About 45 per cent of Pakistanis are under the age of 18, according to the latest Unicef Pakistan Country Office annual report. Currently, Pakistan has the world’s second-highest number of out-of-school children (OOSC) with an estimated 22.8 million children aged 5-16 not attending school. The environment of schools in Pakistan is often not child-friendly and the use of corporal punishment can result in more children dropping out of schools.
Pakistan’s corporal punishment problem arises from Section 89 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), which provided a legal defence for the use of corporal punishment: “Nothing which is done in good faith for the benefit of a person under twelve years of age […] by or by consent of the guardian or other person having lawful charge of that person, is an offence by reason of any harm which it may cause.”
To protect children from maltreatment, the Criminal Law (Second Amendment) Act 2016 inserted Section 328A titled ‘cruelty to a child’. It states: “whoever wilfully assaults, ill-treats, neglects, abandons or does an act of omission or commission, that results in or has, potential to harm or injure the child by causing physical or psychological injury to him…”. However, the amendment in the law did not effectively tackle the menace of corporal punishment.
Recently the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) Prohibition of Corporal Punishment Rules 2022 were notified by the Federal Ministry of Education and Professional Training. These rules were passed under the Islamabad Capital Territory Prohibition of Corporal Punishment Act 2021 (ICT Act 2021), which prohibits corporal punishment in the ICT. The Act specifically acknowledges that a “child has the right to be shown respect for his personality and individuality and shall not be made subject to corporal punishment or any other humiliating or degrading treatment’’ (Article 3).
The ICT Act 2021 is a comprehensive piece of legislation as it prohibits corporal punishment, “…all its forms, at workplace, in schools and other educational institutions including formal, non-formal, and religious, both public and private, in child care institutions including foster care, rehabilitation centres and any other alternative care settings, both public and private, and in the juvenile justice system’’.
The ICT 2021 Act mirrors the Sindh Prohibition of Corporal Punishment Act 2016 (Sindh 2016 Act). The rules under the Sindh Act 2016 were notified in July 2021, after a delay of five years by the Sindh Education and Literacy Department. This highlights the non-serious attitude of the provincial government towards critical child rights violations.
In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), the Child Protection and Welfare Act 2010 has abolished corporal punishment under Article 33. The Balochistan Child Protection Act 2016 and Compulsory Education Act 2014 do not address corporal punishment. However, it was prohibited in all schools in Balochistan through a notification issued on April 13, 2019, by the director of school education. It is important to mention that Punjab has not enacted an explicit and comprehensive legislation on prohibiting corporal punishment other than in limited educational institutes.
Here an important question arises: is comprehensive legislation all that is needed to eliminate corporal punishment? There is no doubt that enactment of progressive legislation is a massive first step, but it cannot automatically eliminate corporal punishment.
In 2012, the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2012 was passed in the ICT, providing for the right to education for children aged 5-16 and prohibiting corporal punishment in government schools for children of that age (Article 13(3)). The act operationalizes the right to education in article 25-A of the constitution. Similarly, the Sindh Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2013 also prohibits corporal punishment under Article 13(3). The Punjab Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2014 prohibits corporal punishment under Article 16(4).
Nevertheless, corporal punishment continues unabated in education institutions as the responsible federal and provincial departments failed to take any actions to implement the law. What occasionally happens when a new explicit legislation is enacted to prohibit a specific wrong is that parallel mechanisms and bodies are established, which have budgetary and capacity issues. Therefore, their implementation becomes questionable. With the recent explicit enactments and rules of business on corporal punishment in ICT and Sindh, one wonders if the respective departments will take any actions to implement the law.
These burning questions are important to ask in a society like Pakistan where corporal punishment is deeply entrenched in cultural norms. It has historically been practised in the inaccurate belief that the pain and humiliation inflicted on a child will deter him/her from bad behaviour in the future. Although legislative reforms are important, their enactment alone is clearly not sufficient to effectively address corporal punishment in Pakistan.
To eliminate corporal punishment, it is essential that alternative methods for maintaining discipline and correcting children’s behaviour are used. Positive, non-violent, and participatory forms of child-rearing and discipline should be promoted. It is the responsibility of the state to provide training to teachers and caregivers on alternative disciplinary approaches to equip them with the necessary skills to replace corporal punishment.
Training curriculum should include modules that build empathy among teachers and caregivers while educating them on the harms of corporal punishment and how it affects a child’s mental health development. The state must take meaningful steps towards eliminating violence against children.
The writer is a barrister. She tweets @RidaT95 and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org