Three cheers for Nepal. Hip-hip, hooray! Hip-hip, hooray!! Hip-hip, hooray!!! Having a population size of 26 million, the South Asian country last month adopted an Act relating to protection of children, which explicitly prohibits corporal punishment of children in all settings. It was certified by the Nepalese President on September 18 and has now become effective.
Understandably, children of the country are elated and in celebration like never before. All their soulful tear-soaked prayers have been answered and they're now convinced there is a God after all. But what happens when their euphoria dies down? If Nepal is anything like Bangladesh, the poor children are in for a shaking and a rude awakening. There is a massive difference between what the law demands on paper and the reality in practice. A leopard doesn't change its spots over night and that also applies to the deep-rooted behaviour of 'teachers'.
The schoolchildren of Bangladesh on January 13, 2011 experienced similar euphoric bliss when Justices Md. Imman Ali and Md Sheikh Hasan Arif of the High Court divisional bench outlawed corporal punishment. Imagine how did the children feel when many of them returned to classrooms and got beaten as routinely as before. This time, however, confusion was added to the despicable mix.
They, the children, knew corporal punishment was against the law. They watched news reports on televisions, read them in newspapers, and heard them on radio. Surely, headmasters and teachers must have also been aware, not to mention the circular from the Education Ministry telling them explicitly, 'no more corporal punishment'.
That was back in 2011 - seven years ago. Apparently, some of the 'teachers' haven't learned yet and it doesn't speak much for their teaching practices. I would prefer my baby not to attend school than risk the child becoming a victim of mental or physical torture and suffering for life.
Only recently, a court in Bangladesh's Haripur sent a schoolteacher to jail for allegedly injuring a sixth grader named Saqib Ramzan by beating him up. The child was severely tortured by teacher Abid Khan over making a 'mistake'. It's alleged that the teacher hit the student with fist and stick before slamming him onto the desk.
Then there's another 'teacher' C.R. Cariappa of Karnataka's Rani Chennamma School in India, who had hit a student with a stick for not wearing uniforms and shoes when attending school. During the thrashing, the student suffered injury to his left eye and lost his eyesight. Even after two surgeries, the eyesight of the boy could not be restored.
The form two student at Kaaga Girls High School in Kenya had to undergo an operation to correct partial hearing loss. The vicious slaps by the 'teacher' left the students with ruptured eardrums. The secondary school 'teacher' was given three years in jail.
And the torture of children is still going on unabated. Perhaps, the worst of all happens when the child feels totally helpless, powerless, and even knows no one to whom they can turn to, for help and seek comfort from - not even the police.
Take for example the case of S. Danush, a 17-year-old student who became so upset after two 'teachers' beat him severely for speaking in the classroom. His father had died when he was 10. His mother, a coolie, said he was depressed when he returned from school, didn't speak, and went to the bed straight after dinner. During the night, he committed suicide by hanging from the ceiling of his house at Kholasanahalli village in Dharmapuri of India. The 'teachers' are on the run.
No loving parent in their right mind would want their precious offspring to commit suicide or to get damaged in any other way. Yet those sending their children to schools and madrasahs knowingly subject them to that possibility where corporal punishment is meted out.
Where there's corporal punishment, there's always the possibility of serious physical or mental injury. And parents, who think it won't happen to their child, are living with their head in the sand or are complete fools - thereby giving 'teachers' the benefit of the doubt. I would imagine none of them ever intend to cause grave injury to the children. It's just something that happens.
Nobody gets into a car expecting a car accident…it's just something that happens unexpectedly… something goes wrong. While car accidents may not be preventable, deaths, torture, cruelty, inhuman and degrading treatment to a child can very well be.
Sweden was the first country to recognise the horrific damage corporal punishment was doing to its children and banned the evil practice in all settings in 1979. The ban clearly conveyed to the children of Sweden that they were of optimum value… they were of the utmost importance… they were the future of the nation (and not just a nice-sounding jingle from the lips of a politician)… and as such were given every protection.
What a legacy to bequeath to all of its future generations. How proud each Swede must feel knowing that its government had the wisdom and common sense to act as they did. Although that happened almost four decades ago and thousands of trees were killed and pulped in the process of conveying the dangers of corporal punishment to the world, supported by hard, irrefutable evidence from leading experts in many areas, it's still in widespread use.
There are people throughout Bangladesh who wear the honourable badge of being a teacher, but they're not proper teachers. These can easily be identified if corporal punishment is part of their arsenal to discipline children. Sure, they are teachers; but they're teaching children all the wrongs a good society abhors. They're teaching children that violence is the means to get the desired results. They're teaching children that they're only important and of value to society when they get to vote.
When we brutalise children, we lower their self-esteem and teach them poor self-control. This leads them into acrimonious relationships with others in society. Today's child is the adult of tomorrow. A damaged child today, is the broken adult of tomorrow. It is no wonder there is so much violence in society when it is taught in our schools.
It is ironic that we are still debating corporal punishment in the education of children long after Justices Md. Imman Ali and Md Sheikh Hasan Arif concluded that it is 'cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and a clear violation of a child's fundamental right to life, liberty and freedom' and Bangladesh Jaityo Sangsad legislated against the wicked practice.
It's mournfully sad that corporal punishment in schools is still found, especially in rural areas where the seemingly educated bully the uneducated. It's sad for the abused victims… sad for the nation… sad for the teaching profession and no doubt heartbreaking for the principled good teachers who oppose it.
Sir Frank Peters is a former newspaper and magazine publisher and editor, a royal goodwill ambassador, humanitarian, and a respected foreign non-political friend of Bangladesh.
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