Strong Children or Broken Men

October 13, 2017

I remember my days in a missionary residential school years back. Many memories are great, that of friends, playing football in torrential rain, the mischief we engaged in at times stealing raw mangoes from the orchard or skipping school with an excuse of a bad tummy to play ping pong. But I shudder in disgust whenever I remember the beatings we got for insignificant little things such as getting late for an official function or writing poetry in study time. I wonder what does it take for a fully grown middle aged man to unleash such barbaric thrashing on a 12 year old child. Is it some kind of a psychological problem or sheer frustration? Corporal punishment in any form has been banned by the Indian government in 2010 by the Ministry of Woman and Child Development. Consequently the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) had issued guidelines for eliminating corporal punishment in schools. The CBSE had also issued strong warnings to schools against any form of corporal punishment. In spite of all these, corporal punishment still exists and is practiced – ironically the most in government schools. This is an unfortunate state of affairs and needs to be addressed in priority by the government without any compromise. What is corporal punishment? The UNICEF Committee on the Rights of the Child in the General Comment No. 8 defines ‘corporal’ or ‘physical’ punishment as “any punishment in which physical force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort, however light. Most involves hitting (“smacking”, “slapping”, “spanking”) children, with the hand or with an implement – a whip, stick, belt, shoe, wooden spoon, etc. But it can also involve, for example, kicking, shaking or throwing children, scratching, pinching, biting, pulling hair or boxing ears, forcing children to stay in uncomfortable positions, burning, scalding or forced ingestion (for example, washing children’s mouths out with soap or forcing them to swallow hot spices). In the view of the Committee, corporal punishment is invariably degrading. In addition, there are other non-physical forms of punishment that are also cruel and degrading and thus incompatible with the Convention. These include, for example, punishment which belittles, humiliates, denigrates, scapegoats, threatens, scares or ridicules the child.” The point to note is the emphasis on the phrase “however light”. In any circumstance and in whatever form, any act that causes even the slightest humiliation or pain to a child, can be interpreted as corporal punishment. Why should we be worried? Only a handful of incidences have come into the limelight in the last few years from across the country, where instances of corporal punishment has led to the deaths of pre-teen children. school-1275481 parents-784453 over-stolen-pen-753463 One incident is particularly telling since it involves a 7 year old child who was beaten up by a leather belt for not doing her homework! leather-belt-allegedly-for-not-doing-homework-1440039 But this obviously is only the tip of the iceberg, to use a cliché. There is rampant instances of this across schools, both private and government, which doesn’t even come to the notice of the press, public or even the parents. Do we really have to wait to take notice and act only when the ultimate happens? Does a child have to die to get justice and freedom from corporal punishment? Corporal Punishment can leave indelible marks on the psyche of the child which can hamper her mental and physical growth and scar her for life. The pain and the agony manifests into various psychological conditions such as phobia, low self-esteem, anxiety, somatic complaints, depression leading to suicidal tendencies, school drop-outs, aggression, delinquency and other maladaptive behaviours. Corporal Punishment destroys a child’s sense of self and personal safety (NCPCR) and have a negative effect on the emotional and intellectual health of a child (NCPCR). Do we really want to become a nation where a large number of people who will play a major role in the development and growth of the country grow up with such major psychological issues? What is being done? The NCPCR guidelines elaborates primarily three types of corporal punishments, physical, mental and discrimination and goes on to elaborate what are different perceptions and consequences of corporal punishment and what are the legal provisions internationally and in India. There are some confusions in the legal provisions where apparently some section (88?) of the IPC gives freedom to a headmaster or guardian of a child to inflict punishment as long as the reason is JUSTIFIABLE! Thankfully, there are many other sections which totally prohibit any such action by anybody, but it is high time that even the slightest of such discrepancies are eliminated from the legal books. What needs to be done? Though it is amply clear that the Indian Constitution and Laws have taken into account the grievousness of corporal punishments and created provisions to check and eventually eliminate it, the enforcement of the laws is still very weak, especially in government schools. There are various groups and NGOs who are actively working against such practices, whenever any such incident or school comes to their notice, but it is not really their job. It is the government itself who needs to implement strict codes of conduct and serious punishments against any such offence for all their school staff. Any form of beating, punishment or harassment should invite serious repercussions without compromise, even threatening to terminate the career of any violator. Unless such actions are taken in full public eye, these acts will not be curbed. The media should also play an active role in exposing any such schools or individuals so the public are more aware of places they send their children to. To conclude, let me quote Frederick Douglass aptly in this context: “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” This should be the overarching thought behind a constant effort towards eliminating corporal punishment in any form from schools, homes and all other places. The damage this does to the child in his formative years is most often than not, irreparable. If this practice is not abolished, the future of this nation and the world as a whole will be in dire straits. In the end humanity is bound to suffer. by Parthasarathi Chakrabarti <>

Guest Contributor