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Safe Childhood for all Children

OpinionSafe Childhood for all Children
By: Khalil Ahmed Dogar

The use of “force”, apparently to “discipline” and “improve” the children is common practice in Pakistani society. This violence is so deeply rooted in our traditions and social norms, that the reporting of cases and action against culprits is practically none. Corporal punishment is daily happening for many children and it is widely accepted as the inherent right of parents, teachers, religious tutors, (unlawful) employers, and those in charge.

Empirical evidence indicates mental health problems and violent tendencies in adulthood as a consequence of corporal punishment faced in childhood. Other adverse effects include anxiety, depression and increased vulnerability to radicalization. In Pakistan, corporal punishment act as ‘compounding factor’ to 44% of the children between age of 5 and 16 who are out-of-school.

Corporal Punishment has been globally recognized as a serious threat to the dignity and wellbeing of children. United Nations Convention on the Rights of Child Article 37 proscribe corporal punishment. Under Article 19, Pakistan is bound to take judicial, directorial, societal and educational steps to curb corporal punishment. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Goal: 16.2 ‘Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions’, Goal 3: ‘Good Health and Well-being’, Goal 4: ‘Quality Education’, all aim towards eradication of corporal punishment from society. Pakistan was the first country to adopt SDGs 2030 agenda through a unanimous resolution of parliament. Therefore its responsibility of the state to ensure all indicators of SDGs are met. Despite this commitment, Pakistan is still among the countries struggling to eradicate corporal punishment in educational institutions.

Conflicting nature of laws in Pakistan are a key reason for the ill practice of corporal punishment existing till date in Pakistan. Pakistan Penal Code Section 89, The Punjab Destitute and Neglected Children Act (2004, Section 35) and The KP Child Protection and Welfare Act (2010, Section 44) allow corporal punishment in some form. This creates hurdles for law makers to exercise improved laws such as The Sindh Prohibition of Corporal Punishment Act (2016), Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act (2012), The Sindh Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (2013, Section 13-3), Punjab Free and Compulsory Education Act (2014) and The Gilgit-Baltistan Prohibition of Corporal Punishment Act (2015).

On 23rd February 2021, the National Assembly of Pakistan passed ‘ICT Prohibition of Corporal Punishment Bill’ commendably outlawing all forms of corporal in formal and informal educational institution, child care facilities such as rehabilitation centers, foster homes and other institutions. Major achievement of this law is cancellation of Section 89 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) which allowed teachers and guardians to physically punish a child in the name of ‘so called’ best interest of the child. Another hallmark of this legislation is that it has increased the age of childhood to 18 years as it is internationally recognized. This law also allows children to directly complain to a court or a magistrate in case of any grievance. This is a major updated over previously in placed vague complaint mechanisms.

On December 27, 2021, the Federal Directorate of Education (FDE) instructed 423 educational institutions under its dominion, to remain attentive against corporal punishment as per the new law. The directive by FDE warned the educational institutions of two types of penalties in case of violation. The minor penalties include actions related to halting raise in rank or remuneration. The major penalties include downgrading, enforced retirement, and termination from service. FDE also instructed all private institutions to initiate a complaint system to address corporal punishment.

There is still a dire need to repel all conflicting and contradictory for effective enforcement of a total ban prohibition of corporal punishment throughout the country. Following the example of the law of Gilgit-Baltistan, corporal punishment should be banned at homes too not just in educational institutions.

Legislation is not the only challenge in fight against corporal punishment. Delayed institutional mechanism and inadequate resource allocation also cripple the implementation efforts. In took Sindh province almost 5 years to pass rules of business of Sindh Prohibition of Corporal Punishment Act (2016). This delay has caused thousands of children to suffer.

Other recommendations given by experts repeatedly are Trained Human Resource and Cross Sectoral Partnerships. The Teacher training curriculum needs to encompass modules empathy while educating teachers on the link between corporal punishment and students’ mental health development. Furthermore, the state needs to organize trainings on alternative disciplinary approaches to train teachers of formal and religious schools with the non-violent teaching techniques. School Management Committees (SMCs) must be strengthened to inform parents of the danger of corporal punishment at homes thus effectively eliminating this practice from society.

The writer is Program Manager, Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child, SPARC, Islamabad

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