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Spare the Rod, Save Children

Aarti Aarti
18 Sep 2023

Two incidents of corporal punishment reported by the New Indian Express during the third week of September highlights how gratuitously some teachers misuse their power inside classrooms. 

In the first case, a teacher at a government school in Amethi, who has since been booked, thrashed a 13-year-old Class 9 student so brutally that his eardrum ruptured. What enraged the teacher? The boy was allegedly talking during his English class and this led the teacher to repeatedly slap him even after he bled. The boy was taken to a doctor who found that his eardrum got damaged. 

In the second incident, a 9-year-old Class 4 student in a private school in Ballia was allegedly beaten by his teacher (reason unknown) after which the boy fell unconscious and his elbow was broken. A case has been registered against the said teacher and management committee. 

Corporal punishment seems to be alive although it is banned in India. Nobody knows why a teacher gets annoyed. But instances galore across the country. Not long ago a 9-year-old boy, a student of a private school in Andhra Pradesh, was allegedly beaten up with a stick by his teacher resulting in serious injuries. Similarly, a 10-year-old Class 4 student of a Government Primary School in Betul District of Madhya Pradesh was beaten up brutally by his two teachers when he failed to satisfy them that he had not broken a bucket in the school. The boy succumbed to serious injuries caused to his backbone and neck. 

Last year, a teacher in a government school in Haryana’s Fatehabad allegedly thrashed at least 40 students with a stick after a student of Class 11 whistled and no one owned up. The beating was so severe that some students had to be hospitalised. This January a Kendriya Vidyalaya teacher was reportedly dismissed for meting out corporal punishment to a Class 7 boy in Vijayawada. The teacher not only beat up the boy but also pinched him so hard that her nail marks were found on the boy’s arms. The student later fell sick and his parents lodged a complaint with the school management. 

Although the United Nations considers corporal punishment a human rights violation and leading medical associations, including the American Psychological Association and American Academy of Paediatrics, decry the practice, inflicting physical punishment on school-going children is not uncommon even in developed economies. 

In 2021, a 4-year-old was allegedly hit and then restrained and beaten a second time for talking during nap time in Louisiana. In Mississippi, an 8-year-old found herself in a hospital bed with a fractured finger after enduring a beating for talking in class in 2018. About 70,000 instances of corporal punishment were recorded in the US during 2017-2018. 

While most schools have abandoned the practice, it is said to surface now and then in many districts. What is disconcerting is that among those who were subjected to it, more than 13,000 students had disabilities.

According to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, 'corporal' or 'physical' punishment is defined as any punishment in which physical force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort, however light.  Article 28(2) of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) says that the school discipline should be administered in a manner consistent with the child's human dignity. Further, Article 37(a) of the UNCRC states that no child should bear any torture, cruelty, or inhuman punishment. India, a signatory to the above Convention, ratified the same in 1992.

Corporal punishment, under the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 ("RCFCE"), is classified as physical punishment, mental harassment and discrimination, and physical punishment has been ascribed the same meaning as has been given by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. Accordingly, corporal punishment is violative of the right of the child to education, as well as the right to live with dignity. As per Section 17 of the RCFCE Act, 'no child shall be subjected to physical punishment or mental harassment'. 

The takeaways from several studies seem to suggest that physical punishments do kids considerably more harm than good. Use of physical force can cause harm and reduce the child's trust in his/her basic safety. Such punishment makes it more, rather than less, likely that children will be defiant and aggressive in the future. It puts children at risk for a range of negative outcomes, including increased mental health problems. 

One review found that about 80 percent of children are spanked or receive some sort of physical discipline as a punishment. The same review found that spanking is an ineffective way to discipline children and has harmful effects. Over the long term, research has found that spanking leads to anti-social behaviour, mental illnesses and anxiety later in life. So, violence is not an acceptable form of discipline. It is not only ineffective, but counter-productive. 

Children who are physically disciplined may become more aggressive as they grow up and experience significant mental health problems. Adults who were hit frequently as children are more likely to suffer from depression and other negative social and mental health outcomes. Over-zealous or harsh discipline is problematic for children, because many adults seem to focus on behaviour of children and it escalates to violence.

Since Teachers are meant to be role models and facilitate in creating meaningful relationships with children, there is an imperative need that students learn in an atmosphere free from violence. It needs to be understood that venting anger is natural but it is likely to be helpful only if it is non-physical. 

Discipline is a teaching tool to build skills for long-term success whereas punishment is not a good teaching tool or long-term solution to unwanted child behaviour. It needs to be appreciated that discipline and punishment are different from each other, and it is important that adults know the difference.  

All said and done, schools should be safe and teachers need to be children-friendly. So, please spare the rod.

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