New efforts at dealing with corporal punishment


 It takes occasional drastic action against the recalcitrant, like the one recently witnessed in Chandigarh when a proactive education secretary forced an elite school to terminate a teacher accused of corporal punishment, which brings the issue out of the closet.

A swift inquiry by the administration held the teacher guilty of slapping and humiliating a class 3 student for his failure to recite a mathematical table. The kid’s mother, herself a teacher, had earlier lodged a complaint with the administration after her son broke down and narrated his humiliation in class.

However, such instances of quick denouement for acts of violence against school kids are few and far between. In many cases, school managements try to protect the guilty teacher and find fault with kids to protect the reputation of their institution. They even justify corporal punishment for the sake of maintaining discipline in school and to control the so-called rowdy students.
In the Indian context, many parents are often supportive of the idea of rebuking or physically punishing children as a measure to  inculcate discipline. Therefore, the use of physical and mental abuse against children at home has still not got enough societal attention though there has been an increasing awareness about corporal punishment of children in schools.
The long-term psychological impacts of violence against children, either at home or in schools, are well documented by several studies. The childhood spanking is known to cause aggressive and anti-social behaviour in adolescence and later life, which could result in rise in violence in the society.
A joint study by the UNICEF, Save the Children and the government conducted in 2007 found that 65 per cent of school children in India were subjected to corporal punishment.
Although corporal punishment has been abolished through legislation or executive order in at least 17 states and Union territories in India, it is the implementation that presents the major challenge.

The Right to Education Bill, which was recently passed in parliament, explicitly bans all forms of corporal punishment and envisages disciplinary action against the guilty. In 2000, the Supreme Court — while banning corporal punishment — made an emotional plea to spare the rod and the child.

The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), a statutory body set up to oversee and examine child rights issues in the country has expressed concern about the violence against children in government and private schools. It has directed district magistrates/deputy commissioners to play a more proactive role in enforcing the commission’s guidelines on corporal punishment issued in 2007.

Suicides
In February 2008, the commission held a pubic hearing at Chennai on all forms of torture of children in schools and hostels in Tamil Nadu. The commission came out with shocking findings that at least 10 school children had committed suicide after being subjected to various forms of corporal punishment and eight had been raped.

An example of commission’s limited role in extreme cases of corporal punishment pertains to the death of 11-year-old Delhi school girl, Shano Khan, who died in April this year after her teacher allegedly made her stand for hours in the sun. The commission castigated the school and blamed the death on teacher’s negligence. However, Delhi police which probed the incident claimed Shano died due to epilepsy. The deceased girl’s parents have knocked on the doors of courts for justice.

 A working group of NCPCR in a report, ‘Protection of children against corporal punishment in schools and institutions’ in December 2008 has noted that existing legislative measures are not enough to nail the culprits of violence against children.
The report  argues that the law effectively does not recognise corporal punishment as an ‘offence’ and guilty teachers and parents can always get away by taking security behind ‘good faith’ when there is no visible harm to the child.

The working group has recommended giving voice to parents in school management bodies, setting up institutional mechanisms by schools and educational institutions, campaign and advocacy and universalising child helpline services as measures to curb corporal punishment in schools.

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