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March 4, 2021

Saving our children

Editorial

 
March 4, 2021

A new bill passed by the National Assembly last month prohibits corporal punishment of children in any location within the Capital Territory of Islamabad – at schools, tuition centres, seminaries and also by their parents or guardians. The bill, in fact, had been pending for a considerable period of time. It was originally moved as a private member's bill in the NA by Mehnaz Akbar Aziz of the PML-N but left pending in the House, then passed to another committee and left without attention until now. Although the bill at present applies only to the Islamabad Capital Territory, campaigners for children's rights hope that the precedent set will lead to it being moved also in the provinces so that all parts of the country are covered by it. Currently, under the Pakistan Penal Code, a clause allows parents and guardians, which also means teachers, to be permitted to hit children as long as the intention is good. Of course, the ‘punishment’ which is meted out to children goes far beyond spanking. A few months ago, a small boy at a seminary died after he was beaten by his teacher for failing to properly memorise a lesson. Before this a girl at a school in Punjab was also beaten to death while a pupil at a tuition centre a few weeks back was beaten and severely injured by her teacher but taken back to the centre by her parents, who said they forgave the teacher believing that he had acted in good faith.

One major problem, of course, is that the beating of children is widely accepted across Pakistan and is seen as the only way to correctly discipline them. Overcrowded classrooms and a lack of teacher training also make it difficult for teachers to manage children at school. These situations too need to be changed. Classroom sizes must be limited and teachers taught how to manage children in their place of learning by keeping them interested in their work and ensuring that the work they are doing captures their attention. A huge awareness campaign about the harm in beating children even if it is simply a slap on the cheek needs to be introduced across the country and publicised by the media. While globally there is immense awareness of the lasting damage beating the child inflicts on him or her, in Pakistan there is little awareness or concern about this reality.

Previously, human rights activists had also moved a petition in the Lahore High Court against the corporal punishment of children. The current bill is backed by singer Shahzad Roy and his NGO. He has said he will campaign to ensure it also goes through the Senate. We certainly hope this can happen so that children are spared the punishments they so often suffer.