That in this day and age, we are still discussing whether corporal punishment for children is acceptable, should be a matter of shame. The Sindh Assembly has been debating whether to ask the federal government to repeal the anachronistic Section 89 of the Pakistan Penal Code, which allows guardians and other people having lawful charge of children to punish them “in good faith for their benefit”. Some in the Sindh Assembly want the law to be repealed because it is being misused by teachers to physically abuse children. That is true enough on its own. But the law should also be repealed because no one, including parents, should be allowed to hit their children. We should be long past the point where we believe that children have no rights.
Yet, it is not surprising that the rights of children are not taken seriously in Pakistan. Despite the fact that we ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990 and made it the law of the land, we have observed it only in the breach. Street children are often arrested and jailed under the Vagrancy Act of 1958 even though they have committed no crime and are being punished only for being homeless. By law, all children in the country have been promised the right to education and are forbidden from being employed before they reach adulthood. On top of that, children below a certain age cannot be tried for crimes. Amazingly enough, though, all these laws set different ages as an upper limit to describe a child.
A report by an international NGO, Save the Children, revealed that Pakistan has more child deaths than just about any other country in the world. And with the devolution of social services to the provinces after the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment, there has been no concerted national strategy to improve the plight of children. Thanks to the malign influence of religious extremists, diseases that primarily affect children, like polio, are now coming back in a big way. Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf declared 2013 the year of children’s rights but this seems to be only a rhetorical device. There is much that needs to be done and a start could be made by explicitly banning corporal punishment for children in and outside of school.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 4th, 2013.
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