On August 5, 2018, the Supreme Court of Pakistan took suo-motu notice of a torture incident. Ten-year-old Zohaib was brutally beaten by a religious cleric for allegedly stealing a few rupees from a mosque in Sheikhupura, Punjab. This inhuman phenomenon, known as corporal punishment, is a daily occurrence for some children — at workplaces, homes and educational institutions.
The use of corporal punishment to ‘discipline’ children is deeply entrenched in tradition and societal attitudes. It is considered a normal part of childhood and openly acknowledged as a right of parents or others in charge. Children already discriminated against based on poverty, disability, caste and ethnicity are more likely to suffer corporal punishment.
Pakistan is one of 92 countries trying to eradicate corporal punishment and has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which requires states to protect children from all forms of violence. There has been progress in the form of numerous laws that prohibit corporal punishment of children in schools as well as family settings. However, cultural acceptability often encourages weak enforcement of the existing laws and perpetrators are rarely held accountable. Additionally, this brutal practice has legal sanction under Section 89 of the Pakistan Penal Code as a means to correct the behaviour of children under 12 years of age.
According to a survey conducted by the Society for the Advancement of Education (SAHE) in collaboration with Alif Ailaan, 70% of teachers in Pakistan endorse corporal punishment. According to a report by the United Nations, it is widely practised in educational institutions in Pakistan, in at least 40% of government schools, 35% of private schools, as well as in religious schools.
Just this year, there have been numerous cases of physical violence against children. Last month, an eight-year-old girl was tortured and hung with a rope as punishment by a cleric of a religious school in Multan. In the same month, a seven-year-old boy died three days after being brutally beaten with an iron rod by a religious school teacher in Lahore. In May, a viral video showed a principal beating male students at a cadet college. And so goes on. What gets reported in the press may just be the tip of the iceberg. A large number of cases are missed due to lack of monitoring and cultural acceptability that deems these acts routine.
Corporal punishment results in physical injury and can even lead to death. However, it must also be noted that this form of violence can have ever-lasting consequences on a child’s personality, perpetuating a vicious cycle of violence. According to a report by the PLAN International, corporal punishment boosts violent behaviour and is associated with assaults on spouses, depression and high drop-out rates from school harming future prospects. Therefore, ending this inhuman practice is not only a matter of children’s fundamental human rights, but also integral to reducing the level of violence in societies.
In order to effectively enforce legislation pertaining to corporal punishment, the government must repeal all conflicting laws such as Section 89 of the PPC. Other laws need to be amended for effective enforcement. There must be a clear and explicit statement in law banning physical and mental violence in all settings. There is a need to introduce training programmes for teachers in alternative disciplinary measures and positive reinforcement techniques. There is also a need to set up a monitoring system to ensure that such abuse is reported and perpetrators are held accountable. Most importantly, there is a need for an attitudinal shift. Awareness campaigns against the prevailing culture and detrimental effects of the practice must be significantly bolstered.
Assault on adults is a criminal offence all over the world. Why is that the most vulnerable and helpless segment of our society should have less protection from assault than adults? A child will never learn with the threat of violence. We need to put a stop to this breach of their fundamental human right to respect for human dignity and physical integrity.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 27th, 2018.