TWO cases of corporal punishment to schoolchildren featured in this newspaper on Tuesday. In one case the education department has asked the school for an action taken report and in another a complaint has been filed with the police. These are but rare cases in which the crime of corporal punishment is sought to be punished. Usually, it is suppressed, though the number of cases happening in the schools of the state might be much more. It is a habit with teachers that refuses to die hard. In their own view they resort to corporal punishment with a view to deterring the child from doing things they do not think appropriate. An increasing number of teachers have become aware of the futility of using corporal punishment as a method of ‘reforming’ a child. Yet there are some who are still prone to use physical force intended to cause pain. It could mean hitting a child with the hand or with a cane or any other tool.
According to a study done by the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development, two out of three school going children in India are physically abused. Corporal punishment is prevalent in schools in every single district of the country. The findings of the study are as good for Goa as for the rest of India. Underreporting of cases of physical punishment does not mean cases are not happening in the state. According to the same report, boys are marginally more likely to face physical abuse (73 per cent) than girls (65 percent). Corporal punishment in both government as well as private schools is deeply ingrained as a tool to discipline children and as a normal action. But most children do not report the matter to anyone and suffer silently. There have been cases of students suffering as a result of beating in private schools. There were also a few deaths in prestigious private schools. A few years ago a 12-year-old student of a prestigious private school in Kolkata committed suicide after being humiliated and caned by the principal. In addition to the physical punishment, there are other non-physical forms of punishment inflicted by teachers. These include penalties that belittle, humiliate, denigrate, scapegoat, threaten, scare or ridicule the child. Whether physical or non-physical, punishment is degrading to students. It makes the child feel inferior. It can cause anxiety and depression and affect their attention to studies. Such punishment thus ends up in doing harm to the child than doing good, the primary purpose for which the offending teachers claim to be using corporal punishment.
There are laws, rules and directives against corporal punishment for whose enforcement the concerned state, national and international institutions and agencies have been pressing for past several years. As in most western countries corporal punishment in schools has been banned in India. However, most schools in India still practise this type of punishment, ignoring the laws, rules and directives prohibiting it and without the fear of the penalties provided for violations. The principals are expected to act as the guardian in this regard but unfortunately they have not been doing their duty in all cases. Every school is supposed to have a child rights cell to which children can complain in case of physical punishment or non-physical forms of punishment that degrades them and affects them psychologically and reduces them in their own self-esteem. Does every school have such a cell?
All children under the age of seven are supposed to be exempted from criminal liability and any mistake committed by them has to be forgiven as they are seen to be still in the age of innocence and incapable of understanding the implications of many things and many issues. Yet, despite this express protection there are cases of children under the age of seven who are given punishment. The law says that any child who has not done homework or not dressed in school uniform or in an appropriate fashion should not be subjected to any form of physical punishment. However, principals and teachers find it good enough reason to inflict pain and hurt on the child. There are protections for children in the Indian Penal Code and the Juvenile Justice Act. There are penalties laid down for corporal punishment: if a principal or teacher is found guilty he could go to jail for a year or pay a fine of Rs 50,000 or both. If he or she is a repeat offender, imprisonment could extend up to 3 years. Teachers found guilty could be denied promotion and increments. How many teachers of Goa have been jailed, fined or denied promotion for inflicting corporal punishment?