Banishing Corporal Punishment For Children

Banishing Corporal Punishment For Children
April 30 is globally recognised as the International Day to End Corporal Punishment. The proponents of this movement voice their support for children which have been victims of corporal punishment. They also call for better and faster protection of children as human rights holders.

In Pakistan, corporal punishment is often used in various settings which includes homes, alternative care settings, schools and penal institutions. It is a tragedy that corporal punishment is ingrained in the Pakistani society and that violence is seen as a way to resolve issues. A plethora of scientific research over the decades has shown that the use of physical force to ‘educate’ or ‘correct’ a child’s behavior is the wrong approach and may lead to serious harm to the child’s physical and mental health.

Yet, corporal punishment is a common occurrence in Pakistan and is widely accepted as an inherent right of parents and guardians, elder siblings, teachers, religious tutors, and employers (illegal).

Adults who experience corporal punishment during childhood are more likely to resort to violence to resolve conflict with peers or to bully others. They are also more likely to be involved in incidents of domestic violence. Beating children does not aid them in any way. Instead, it kills their creativity and is a breach of their fundamental human rights. Children must be made to feel dignified.

What Does Law Say?

According to the Section 89 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), parents, guardians and teachers are permitted to use corporal punishment to resolve disciplinary problems. The law states, “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…”.

Several provincial laws also offer similar provisions. For reference, there are Section 33 and 44 of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Child Protection and Welfare Act 2010, Section 48 of the Sindh Children Act 1955, Section 35 of the Punjab Destitute and Neglected Children Act 2004 etc.

Although the Islamabad High Court suspended Section 89 of the Pakistan Penal Code in 2020, the impact of this suspension was not observed due to the autonomous governance of the provinces after passing of the 18th amendment.

The Islamabad Capital Territory Prohibition of Corporal Punishment Act, 2021 overrides Section 89 of the PPC. It says, “Notwithstanding anything contained in Section 89 of the Pakistan Penal Code, 1860 (Act XLV of 1860) and any other law and regulation for the time being in force, corporal punishment of children by any person is prohibited”. The rules of business of this Act are in place and it is a blueprint for other provinces where it can be taken forward. Its coverage spans in all spaces where children access education or protection services.

The Sindh Prohibition of Corporal Punishment Act, 2016 contains similar prohibitions. It outlawed corporal punishment in any form by any person in the family and at workplace, in schools, institutions including formal, non-formal, religious, child care, foster care, rehabilitation and detention centres.

The government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa banned corporal punishment by introducing Section 33 of The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Child Protection and Welfare Act, 2010. which states that “Corporal punishment stands abolished in all its kinds and manifestations, and its practice in any form is prohibited as provided under Section 89 of the Pakistan Penal Code, 1860”.

The Government of Balochistan banned corporal punishment in schools through a directive issued in 2010. In the same vein, the federal and other provincial ministries and departments also relied on different directives instructing schools to banish use of corporal punishment.

However, there is a critical need for stronger laws and policy response to address this issue. The Balochistan Child Protection Act 2016 bans physical violence only.

The School Education Department, Punjab issued a notification which enforced a ban on corporal punishment in all its educational institutions in 2018. This complied with the orders of the Lahore High Court in a petition ‘Syed Miqdad Mehdi vs Government of the Punjab’.

However, there are two major lacunas in banning corporal punishment through this notification. First, it is a ministerial directive and not proper legislation. Second, it prohibits corporal punishment for five to sixteen year olds in schools but does not cater to all the children in need in Punjab.

In 2005. the government of Punjab issued a similar notification. However, a mechanism to monitor its compliance in schools was not established. The use of corporal punishment is also prohibited under Section 16 of the Punjab Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2014, but the rules of business of this Act are not in place.

In 2016, lawmakers responded to the issue of cruelty to children through a criminal law amendment bill by inserting Section 328-A into the PPC, which criminalises cruelty against a child. However, there is a need to amend Section 89, which serves as a defence for the accused of cruel punishment and abuse in the name of discipline or good faith.

Although, the National Child Policy adopted in 2006 mentioned the child’s right to protection from corporal punishment, comprehensive legislation is missing to deal with the issue in different territories.

International Obligations

The international framework of human rights could also help understand the kind of legal safeguards required against corporal punishment. Since 1990, Pakistan has been party to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which leaves no room for corporal punishment under article 28 (2). Article 19 of this convention also addresses violence against children.

The article states, “States parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.” Furthermore, article 37 of the UNCRC also proscribes corporal punishment.

In the review of Pakistan’s situation held in June 2016, the Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed its concerns regarding the widespread use of corporal punishment in all settings. The Committee urged Pakistan to eradicate and prohibit all forms of corporal punishment.

Pakistan is also a party to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) since 2010. In June 2017, the Committee Against Torture stated in concluding observations on the initial report on Pakistan that “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.” There is no doubt that the definition of torture extends to corporal punishment if it is happening in public schools.

Goal 16 ‘Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions’, Goal 3: ‘Good Health and Well-being’, Goal 4: ‘Quality Education’ of United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aim towards eradication of corporal punishment from the member states. To ensure swift progress towards meeting Pakistan’s international commitments, Pakistan must completely outlaw the widespread existence of corporal punishment which effects our children adversely.

Corporal Punishment in Schools

The Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC) in its annual report identified corporal punishment as one of the most pervasive forms of violence against children in Pakistan. According to its estimate, around 35,000 students drop out of school each year while trying to escape corporal punishment. Article 11 and 25 of the Constitution of Pakistan elaborate on child protection. Article 25-A guarantees free and compulsory education from 5-16 years of age, Article 25(3) recommends special laws for child protection. Nevertheless, Pakistan has the world’s second-highest number of out-of-school children with an estimated 23 million children aged 5-16 not attending the school.

Despite widespread media coverage of the incidents of corporal punishment in schools, the complainants are not able to get relief due to the absence of strong legislation and implementation of existing regulations and policies in the country.

Way Forward

Given Pakistan’s obligations under domestic and international agreements, concrete legislative measures and policy rules are needed to banish corporal punishment. The government should undertake awareness raising campaign on the harmful effects of corporal punishment with an emphasis on changing the general attitude towards the practice and on promoting positive, non-violent and participatory forms of child-rearing and discipline.

The need of improvement in teachers’ training and strengthening School Management Committees (SMCs) has often been highlighted by educational experts to banish corporal punishment. Teachers and school authorities of all forms of institutions for children must be sensitized on the detrimental effects of corporal punishment and empowered with alternative tools and strategies for connecting with their students. There is a strong link between the home and the school. So, teachers can help parents to understand positive disciplining. It can be done through parent education workshops on the subject. No mandate of child protection can be ensured without the active involvement of an intensively trained teacher.

In case of juvenile justice systems, the police will need training in order to change and to embrace new codes of conduct. Another effort required in legislation is to set the age of childhood to 18 years as it is internationally recognized. Subsequently, child labour must also be monitored for strict punishment against the culprits indulging in such heinous acts. The complaint mechanisms under all laws must be clear and efficient. The federal and provincial governments must also show concrete results in bringing religious schools under mainstream education umbrella because corporal punishment in these institutions remains unnoticed.

For a holistic development of children, all forms of corporal punishment should be completely prohibited. Rather than controlling the children, it is more effective to engage them in decision making and enhance their communication skills. The case for love, kindness and participation is powerful as well as empowering, and is ultimately reinforced by religion, culture and science — we just have to adjust our lens.

The writer is a human rights activist and columnist. She tweets @NabilaFBhatti and can be reached at