Sparing the rod

Prohibiting corporal punishment remains a distant dream. Farman Ali reports

Sparing the rod
In November last year, an 8th grader Ahmad Hussain was paralysed due to a head injury reportedly inflicted by a teacher at a private cadet college in Larkana. Sindh’s chief minister taking note of the incident had arranged for Ahmad to be taken to the United States for treatment at the provincial government’s expense. He is convalescing in a hospital in the United States post operation.

A 13-year-old girl Riffat, a fifth grader, died on the 11th of June due to human negligence and cruel methods still adopted in most of the public sector schools in rural areas. She was beaten up by her teacher on the 6th of June and allegedly received internal injuries in the thigh.

These two incidents are just the tip of the iceberg prevalent in the educational and social settings of the country. There are hundreds of such incidents that occur in schools and houses but remain unreported.

Despite making commitments at various international forums, Pakistan has failed to stop corporal punishment at public sector schools, religious seminaries (madrassahs) and at homes.

An international organisation which is campaigning against corporal punishment in its latest report claims that prohibition of corporal punishment in all settings in Gilgit-Baltistan has been achieved. However, the recent Ghizer incident belies this claim.
Nearly three-quarters of adult Pakistanis believe their religion allows them to slap their children if they do not behave

Prohibition of child abuse and corporal punishment will remain a distant dream unless Pakistan fulfils its commitment to the UN and other forums – to reform and amend laws to prohibit corporal punishment.

According to a 2010 report by the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC), up to 35,000 students drop out of high school every year because of corporal punishment. A study carried out by an international organisation, Plan International, found that physical punishment was used in 89% of public and private schools in Punjab, followed by private schools and then religious seminaries. It sometimes caused major injury or death.

The Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children in its June 2017 report says the prohibition is still to be achieved when it comes to the home, alternative care settings, day care, some schools, some penal institutions and as a sentence for crimes.

A study by UNICEF and Save the Children identified 43 types of punishment in schools including slapping, ear-twisting, putting the child in awkward position (“rooster”, “aeroplane”) or beating with iron rods, water-pipes, electric wires, etc.

A research conducted in 2014 as part of UNICEF’s Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) programme found 81% of 1-14 year-old children in Punjab and Sindh experienced some form of violent “discipline” (psychological aggression and/or physical punishment). On average 76% of children experienced psychological aggression, 66% physical punishment and 31% severe physical punishment (hit or slapped on the face, head or ears, or hit repeatedly). Only 7% of children experienced only non-violent forms of discipline.

In 2014, SPARC identified corporal punishment in homes, schools and places of work “as one of the most pervasive forms of violence against children”. A large number of incidents are “left unreported due to a tacit cultural approval, stemming from traditional attitudes towards child rearing, which overlook acts of violence against children for “disciplinary” purposes,” the society says.

A survey of students aged 12–17 years, conducted between October 2013 and March 2014, found that 44% had experienced physical violence by teachers in school, and 30% had been locked in the toilet by a teacher. Of the incidents that were reported (20% to a parent and 18% to another teacher) no action was taken in two-thirds of cases, the report says.

The report says that although parents and teachers claim corporal punishment is on the decline, students say it is still prevalent and justified as a corrective measure for students who commit mistakes. Some teachers justify corporal punishment for ensuring good academic achievement.

Another study carried out as part of Plan International’s “Learn Without Fear” campaign found that physical punishment was used in 89% of public and private schools in Punjab. Nearly three-quarters of adult Pakistanis believe their religion allows them to slap their children if they do not behave. In a survey carried out by the SPARC in 2011, 76% of parents in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province were in favour of corporal punishment of children.

Lacunae in laws

Article 89 of the Penal Code states that “Nothing which is done in good faith for the benefit of a person under twelve years of age, or of unsound mind by or by consent, either express or implied, of the guardian or other person having lawful charge of that person, is an offence by reason of any harm which it may cause, or be intended by the doer to cause or be known by the doer to be likely to cause to that person…”

There are similar provisions in the Punjab Destitute and Neglected Children Act 2004 (Article 35), the Sindh Children Act 1955 (Article 48), the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Child Protection and Welfare Act 2010 (Articles 33 and 44) and other provincial laws which needs to be repealed or amended to ensure that no law can be construed as providing a defence for the use of corporal punishment on children.

The UN and other international organisations have expressed concern over these provisions that allow for the imposition of corporal punishment and asked Pakistan being party to the Convention on Child Rights to “take the necessary legislative measures to eradicate and explicitly prohibit all forms of corporal punishment in all settings, as they amount to torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, in violation of the child rights convention.”

In recent years, a number of bills which address the issue have been under discussion, including a Child Protection Bill. A Prohibition of Corporal Punishment Bill was passed by the National Assembly in March 2013.

Two bills were introduced to the parliament – the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill 2015 and the Prohibition of Corporal Punishment Bill 2017. The latter, applicable in Islamabad Capital Territory, was passed in January 2017 and did not prohibit corporal punishment in child rearing.

However, the Bill does not clearly prohibit corporal punishment and amend section 89 of the Penal Code which provides a legal defence for its use.

Gilgit-Baltistan Prohibition of Corporal Punishment Act

In August 2016, the Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly passed the Prohibition of Corporal Punishment Act prohibiting all corporal punishment of children. Article 2 of the Act defines corporal punishment based on the Committee on the Rights of the Child’s definition.

Article 3 states that children have “the right to be shown respect for [their] personality and individuality and shall not be made subject to corporal punishment or any other humiliating or degrading treatment”.

A way forward?

Pakistan is a party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Under Article 19 of the Convention, a child must be “protected from all forms of physical and mental violence while in the care of parents and others.” Article 28.2 requires that state parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that school discipline is administered in a manner consistent with the child’s human dignity and in conformity with the present Convention.” Under Article 37, “No child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

The UN body in its recommendations adopted in June 2016 urges the Pakistan Government to prohibit all forms of corporal punishment, undertake awareness-raising campaigns on the harmful effect of corporal punishment and promote positive, non-violent and participatory forms of child-rearing and discipline.

It recommends that Pakistan repeal section 89 of the PPC 1860 and set up effective monitoring system to ensure that abuse of power by teachers or other professionals does not take place in schools.

'Old school' ways claimed the life of 13-year-old Riffat, in Ghizer, Gigit-Baltistan. Reporting by Farman Ali and Noor Akber

Riffat, a fifth-grader who was the youngest among her four siblings, two brothers and a twin sister, died last week due to human negligence and cruel methods still adopted in most of the public sector schools in rural areas.

Riffat died at the Combined Military Hospital Gilgit on the 11th of June, apparently of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), or compartment syndrome, caused by sepsis (infection) or trauma, say medical experts and her death report.

Compartment syndrome is a condition when pressure stars building in any part of the body especially in the leg or arms due to a trauma or infection that proves fatal, says Dr. Khadija, a surgical expert at The Aga Khan Health Centre Singal.

According to background interviews with local people, the victim’s school fellows and police, it transpired that Riffat, a student at the Federal Government Benazir Bhutto Shaheed Girls High School Sher Qila of Punyal Tehsil, was beaten up by a grade 1 employee of the school who doubles as a teacher at the same school  – on the 6th of June.

According to some students of the school the teacher asked the students to bring a book. The girls mistakenly brought their workbook instead that infuriated the teacher who started beating the whole class with an iron scale. When she was to hit Riffat, the young student in a bid to save her head lost her balance and fell on the floor of the classroom and the teacher hit her on the right thigh. The pointed edge of the scale hit her thigh and she cried with pain. She was taken home by her twin sister, who was also a student of the same class.

Her parents protested to the teacher asking her to take their daughter to hospital as they can’t afford the hospital fee. The teacher took her to AKMC Singal on June 9, three days after the torture where she was examined but there was no sign of fracture, bruises or abrasion on her thigh. She was sent home after initial treatment. The pain aggravated and she was referred to Gilgit and admitted to the Combined Military Hospital (CMH) on June 10. But she died the very next day on Sunday (June 11) because of ARDS, caused by sepsis as mentioned in the death certificate by the CMH administration.

Riffat wanted to become a doctor. Her father, Babur Khan is a civil telephone operator at Gilgit-Baltistan Scouts in Gilgit.

The police arrested the teacher Shakoor and got a three-day remand from a local sessions court on Tuesday.