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February 17, 2020

Protecting children

Editorial

 
February 17, 2020

In a welcome move, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) has stopped teachers from meting out corporal punishment to children. We must commend singer and social activist Shahzad Roy for bringing this important issue forward, as it is a violation of basic human rights. While imposing a ban on corporal punishment, the IHC has also sought a reply from the government. The IHC has recently been consistently issuing observations and verdicts that defend human rights and restrict violations of such rights. In this particular case, Shahzad Roy had filed a petition against corporal punishments to children at school, responding to which the court issued directives to the interior ministry to take measures so that schools are barred from punishing children physically.

There has been a consistent tendency in our adults – teachers, shop owners and even parents – to punish children under their care or custody, both physically and psychologically. In September 2019, the case of Hunain Bilal had come to light in Lahore when the teenager was grabbed by his hair, punched repeatedly, and slammed against the wall of his own classroom by his teacher, just because Bilal had failed to memorize the day’s lesson. Bilal’s death had led to a temporary hue and cry in the media and then, as is the wont, the case was forgotten. That case, and many other similar incidences have shown that our state has continuously failed to protect our children against enraged teachers and other adults who victimize at their whims vulnerable children all over the country. Pakistan is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child according to which corporal punishment is prohibited not only in schools but anywhere in society.

Our failure to stem such corporal punishments stems from two major causes: first, we still do not have a clear official policy with an effective implementation strategy to enforce the ban; second, we have been unable to develop and promote a structural national narrative that should not only outlaw violence against children but also stigmatize such practices. There should be some stigma attached to the perpetrators of such corporal punishments. In a way, society at large has encouraged such practices in the name of disciple; as a result, it glosses over minor injuries resulting from corporal punishment. Only a death or a near-death experience resulting from such violence stirs us to action and voice concerns. A simple law banning corporal punishment will not help; the law must criminalize this practice, and all kinds of mental and physical torture against children must be dealt with a strict disciplinary action against the perpetrators.