‘Classrooms need to be child-friendly’
Karachi: The data collected by the Society for the Protection of the Rights of Child (SPARC) indicates that 35,000 students left high school in Pakistan in 2009 because of the fear of corporal punishment.
However, Sadia Baloch, who heads the child rights desk at the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, believes that the figures must be higher. “These are only the reported cases, and cases here are barely reported.”
Though a mechanism for reporting cases of violence against children exists, there are serious loopholes. For instance, a case can only be reported at the Federal Ombudsman’s office by either filling an online form, or obtaining the form in person from the office.
“The Ombudsman’s office exists in provincial capitals. The Karachi office entertains complaints from all over Sindh,” Baloch says.
Access to the forms is therefore an issue. “People in villages do not have Internet connections. It is impractical for them to travel all the way to the provincial capital and register a complaint.” The forms, she maintains, should be available at all police stations.
Confusion in the definition
The law does not define the term corporal punishment. The general impression of corporal punishment is physical beating but activists and educationists have their own definitions.
Baloch maintains it constitutes any punishment given by an institution, “in this case a school”.
Cassandra Fernandes, a researcher at the Institute of Educational Development-Aga Khan University (IED-AKU), calls it “anything that incorporates fear in children; name-calling, pinching, staring”.
The Pakistan Penal Code in Article 89 states, “Nothing which is done in good faith for the benefit of a person under twelve years of age”, by “consent, either expressed or implied, of the guardian or other person having lawful charge of that person, is an offence”, provided it does not cause death or voluntary hurt.
Furthermore, the act of “voluntary hurt” is only committed if six conditions are met. Article 337a of the Pakistan Penal Code discusses them as injury caused “without exposing the bone of victim, exposing the bone without causing fracture, fracturing the bone without dislocating it, fracturing the bone and dislocating it, fracturing the skull so that the bone touches the brain membrane and fracture of the skull so that the wound ruptures the brain membrane”.
“Basically one cannot register an FIR, unless blood oozes out or a bone is fractured. A bruise for example, will be registered in a ‘roznamcha’ or daily diary, meaning it is not a cognisable offence,” Baloch explains.
Why do parents/teachers beat up children?
A research conducted by IED-AKU during a survey of 20 public and private schools in Karachi and Larkana reveals that parents and teachers beat up children because this is the only way of disciplining they know of. Some argue that it is permissible in Islam.
The study, titled “Creating Child-Friendly Classrooms; Positive Disciplining Strategies”, also finds that the most common forms of corporal punishment are; making students sit or stand in an uncomfortable position like making them a ‘Murgha’, boxing the ears, taking off shirts (for boys) and either caning their backs or making them lie down while the teacher kicks them.
The reason cited was the need for maintaining the classroom power structure in schools. “In our classrooms the teacher is all-powerful,” says Cassandra Fernandes, one of the researchers who conducted the study.
Alternatives to corporal punishment
“The key to avoid misbehaviour by children is to make classrooms child-friendly. Class time must be utilised constructively. Children must not get idle time, for this is when they make mischief,” says Fernandes.
Following the study, a tool-kit was prepared to provide teachers with alternatives. This includes comprehensive tips for child-friendly classrooms. Some of the suggestions include setting up a complaint box for children.
It even includes the map of a child-friendly classroom, which comprises a class library with reading and math activity areas, apart from desks and chairs.
In a letter to Barack Obama, Alice Miller, author of Banished Knowledge, a book on the psychological implications of corporal punishment on children, wrote, “Spanking creates fear. In a state of fear children’s attention is totally absorbed by the strategy of surviving. As they (children) learn from imitation they learn from us violence and hypocrisy. They will obey at first but in the long run they may choose to lie to avoid the next punishment.”