LAHORE, Dec 9 (OneWorld) - Spurred by the recent beating of a federal minister's son by his school teacher and a report claiming thousands of children runaway every year to escape torture both at home and in school, Pakistan plans to introduce a Bill banning corporal punishment. (Emphasis added)
Reportedly, the proposed Bill will also heavily penalize violators, both in schools and homes.
The authorities also plan to reform around 80 laws that do not conform to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
Federal Minister for Education Zubeda Jalal says the draft Bill will be presented in the next session of the National Assembly. Adding that it has nothing to do with the recent thrashing, she maintains the Bill has been in the works for a long time.
Ahmed Jamal, the head of the Department of Pakistan Studies at a reputed boy's school in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, was arrested after the Minister of State for Minorities, Culture, Sports, Tourism and Youth Affairs, Rais Munir Ahmad, complained that he had thrashed his son.
According to reports, Jamal punished some students of Class VI, including the minister's son in an effort to make them improve their performance in class.
Assistant Police Superintendent Javeed Akber says a case was registered against the lecturer after conducting a medical test. The case was promptly referred to the courts, where a compromise was reached and the minister pardoned the teacher.
In another case last week, a schoolteacher allegedly beat up a minor girl in the eastern city of Lahore. Nabeela, a teacher at the Pak Standards Girls High School run by the nongovernmental organization (NGO), CARE, beat up Class VII student Amna Iftikhar, breaking one of her teeth and damaging another.
Though the police refused to arrest the teacher, CARE project director Asad Khan says the teacher has been recalled to the head office.
He adds that the student's parents were given assurances that such incidents would not occur in the future.
According to a report by the Ministry of Social Welfare, an average of 10,000 children flee their homes every year after being maltreated or tortured by their schoolteachers, parents and other family members.
Women who get married early and bear several children in a short span of time or those who are maltreated by their in-laws are most likely to abuse their own children, says the report.
Social injustices, police tyranny, mental torture suffered by people in hospitals and district courts generate frustration in people, which makes them less caring parents.
Similarly, the ever-growing trend of violence in society and lack of appropriate laws to check domestic violence make children vulnerable to torture by their parents and other members of their family.
Teachers of religious institutions, particularly in the backward areas of the western province of Balochistan and the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), are the most cruel, says the report.
They have been accused of chaining children and beating them mercilessly.
As per a survey by the NGOs' Coalition on Child Rights (NCCR), on the basis of data collected from eight districts in the NWFP last year, some 404 children ran away from home to escape torture by family members and teachers.
According to the survey, over 77 per cent of parents avoided reporting the disappearance of their children to the police.
The report says children who fled homes preferred the drudgery of jobs such as shoe-shining and selling newspapers in big cities, to returning home.
Another NCCR study in the NWFP reveals that over 57 percent of school principals feel punishment is necessary to maintain discipline, build character and facilitate learning.
Over 40 per cent of schools allowed corporal punishment. The prevalence of corporal punishment in government and private schools is 40.7 percent and 35.4 percent respectively.
Though 78 percent of parents say corporal punishment is practised in schools and 64.1 percent knew their children have been punished there, only 40 percent of them say it is right.
Of course, such liberal use of the stick impacts the learning curve. Psychologist Nadeem Altaf Malik maintains that the fear of punishment affects the desire and incentive to learn.
"Punishment hardly works as children seldom remember the purpose of the punishment," says Malik.
"If a child is routinely subjected to this form of violence, he develops a stubbornness which further accentuates the stress on the adult besides tormenting the child."
Experts agree that an overhaul of the law is long overdue. Sources in the Ministry of Law and Justice say they will focus on section 89 of the Pakistan Penal Code 1860, which allows "acts committed in good faith for the benefit of children under 12 years of age by or with the consent of the guardians."
But if the act is committed in bad faith or causes injury - both difficult to prove - the teacher can be prosecuted.
Pakistani authorities worried about a backlash from schools and colleges can take comfort from the CRC. Sabtain Raza Lodhi of Pakistan Crescent Youth Organization, an NGO working for children's rights, says the CRC, to which Pakistan is a signatory, clearly forbids corporal punishment.
The CRC clearly says in Article 28-2 and Article 37 that a child must be protected against all forms of physical and mental violence while in the care of parents or anyone for that matter.
Article (37) of the CRC reads: "No child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."
The Law Ministry seems determined to push through the legislation. Says a senior official, "It's gone too far. Corporal punishment is a serious issue and should be tackled on a priority basis. Parents and teachers needed to be educated about the psychology of a child to curb child abuse."
Agrees Rana Ijaz Ahmad, human rights advisor to the northern Punjab government, "The government is against any form of violence against children whether it is in good faith or otherwise and no one will be spared if found guilty of such a crime. The new law will be implemented in letter and spirit," he promises.
Ahmad stresses that the children could be disciplined without punishing them.
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