|Volume 5 Issue 11| November 2011|
Breaking the Rod
ARAFAT HOSSEN KHAN highlights the need for laws against corporal punishment at educational institutions.
Although the time had come in Bangladesh to re-examine the saying 'spare the rod and spoil the child', corporal punishment in educational institutes is still common in Bangladeshi schools -- despite the fact that it was banned all most a year ago by the Hon'ble High Court. A writ petition was filed on 18.07.2010 in the public interest by two human rights and legal aid organisations challenging the systematic failure of the state to take action to investigate serious allegations of corporal punishment in primary and secondary educational institutions and madrasahs or to prevent further such incidents.
The writ followed reports of 14 separate incidents between March to July 2010 of caning, beating and chaining of boys and girls by teachers, culminating in the suicide of a 10 year old boy following a reported beating in school.
On 18.7.2010, the Hon'ble Court issued a Rule upon the Government to show cause why the failure of the state authorities to comply with their statutory and constitutional duties to take effective measures to prevent imposition of corporal punishment on children in educational institutions, including by framing necessary laws/guidelines, or to investigate such allegations and prosecute and punish those responsible, should not be declared to be a violation of the guaranteed rights under Articles 27, 31, 32 and 35(5) of the Constitution.
Thereafter on 13.01.2010 after hearing all the parties in this writ petition the Hon'ble High Court held that corporal punishment constitutes a clear violation of children's fundamental rights to life, liberty and freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. It held that the Government had failed to take appropriate and adequate action to investigate or take either preventive or punitive action in specific incidents of corporal punishment against children in schools and madrasahs, including one involving the suicide of a 10-year-old boy, and others involving caning, beating, chaining by the legs, forcible cutting of hair and confinement of children. The Court referred to the Government's obligations under national and international law, including Articles 27, 31, 32 and 35 of the Constitution, the Child Rights Convention and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to prohibit, prevent and prosecute such acts.
Regardless of that, each year, hundreds of students are subjected to corporal punishment in public and private schools and madrasahs in Bangladesh. Recently, we have come to learn from a news report published online in BDNEWS 24 under the title of “Teachers' caning leaves 21 students hurt” on 02.08.2011. Reportedly, 10 students of Class 5 of Every Home International School, Savar, Dhaka was brutally caned by their teacher, Nazrul Islam, for not doing their homework and similarly, another 11 students of Class 3 of Shitolai Primary School at Birganj upazila, Dinajpur was brutally caned and injured by their teacher, Humayun Kabir Choudhury, for not complying with that teacher's instruction to work on his home garden in the weekend. The punishment constitutes a clear violation of the constitutional rights including to life and liberty and freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
However, it is very alarming to observe the failure of the concerned authorities to comply with the Hon'ble High Court directions to take action to investigate the matter or prosecute the incident and obligation to ensure the fundamental rights to clear violation under articles 27, 31, 32 and 35 of the Constitution.
We hope the concerned government authorities will take steps and identify the schools where corporal punishment is still continuing. The government should arrange training for teachers to help them to apply accurate techniques to handle students. Regular monitoring of schools in this regard should be carried out by the education directorate all over the country.
Now it is high time to understand that aside from the infliction of pain and the physical injuries which often result from the use of physical punishment, these violent disciplinary methods also impact students' academic achievement and long-term well-being. Despite significant evidence that corporal punishment is detrimental to a productive learning environment, there are a significant number of incidents of corporal punishment as evident in the news media.
Moreover, a public/private school's or madrasah's use of corporal punishment affects every student in that school, including those who are not personally subjected to the corporal punishment. The prevalent use of physical violence against students creates an overall threatening school atmosphere that impacts students' ability to perform academically. Often, children who experience or witness physical violence will themselves develop disruptive and violent behaviours, further disturbing their classmates' learning as well as their own.
Corporal punishment is a destructive form of discipline that is ineffective in producing educational environments in which students can thrive. Rather than relying on harsh and threatening disciplinary tactics, schools and teachers should be encouraged to develop positive behaviour supports, which have proven effective in reducing the need for harsh discipline while supporting a safe and productive learning environment.
In order to implement the judgment of the Hon'ble High Court against corporal punishment in educational institutions, an awareness meeting was organised by BLAST on October 14, 2011 at the Liberation War Museum regarding prohibition of corporal punishment in educational institutions and other institutions and preparing an action plan. In that meeting, a fruitful discussion by the participants was conducted and several recommendations were made in order to implement the High Court Judgment and to prevent corporal punishment in our educational institutes. It was highlighted that all forms of corporal punishment i.e. physical punishment and mental torture by teachers should be prohibited in educational institutions. It was also discussed that, it is important to find out the reasons why teachers are punishing students by way of corporal punishment and that the concerned authorities should find this out. It was agreed among the participants that a massive awareness programme should be introduced among the family members of the students and teachers of the educational institutions regarding rules and regulations against corporal punishment as well as the bad impact on the students as a result of corporal punishment. In order to increase awareness against corporal punishment, initiatives could be taken such as: working with Dhaka University, supplying leaflets to teachers, students and guardians to create awareness regarding corporal punishment and advertising in the media; guardians should be invited to school awareness programmes; teachers, students and guardians may discuss together to stop corporal punishment, etc. In order to increase awareness in the family, NGO or private or governmental institutions may provide help, for example, social workers can go door to door to create awareness. It was also recommended that along with training for teachers to stop corporal punishment, teachers who do engage in it should be punished and that this be circulated in the media.
It is essential to have laws within education institutions prohibiting corporal punishment and teachers should be sensitised to these from the very beginning. Teachers who violate this law should be severely punished. It is vital that they understand that students are human beings, too, and that they and their rights must be respected.
1) The petitioners argued that the failure of the concerned Ministries and Boards of Education to take action amounted to a violation of fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution and under international human rights treaties such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as CEDAW and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Reported incidents between March to July 2010 included the chaining of a seven-year-old madrasah student for 'indiscipline', and several beatings and canings resulting in hospitalisation of several students, including caning of 25 students after their failure to bring colour pencils to school, and hospitalisation of eight of them; beating of a girl student of a madrasah in Bandarban for three days; beating of a 13-year-old boy student in a madrasah; and the beating of a girl student with disabilities for her failure to contribute to a school fund.
This article was written for Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST).
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