Meera Srinivasan, The Hindu, Nov 19, 2006
Activists concerned about lack of awareness among authorities, teachers' insensitivity to child rights
# "Children Act 1960 states school students shall not be subjected to corporal punishment
# "Beating up children is a breach of human rights, violation of human dignity"
CHENNAI: The recent incident in which 13-year-old Alexander, a school student, was injured after being allegedly assaulted by his headmaster, has raised several questions about awareness levels on corporal punishment.
Lawyers, educationists, doctors and activists point to the lack of awareness among authorities about the legal implications of corporal punishment and teachers' insensitivity to child rights.
Assistant Solicitor General of India P.Wilson highlights the code of regulations for Matriculation schools in Tamil Nadu (regulation 71), which states: `Corporal punishment shall not be inflicted in schools except in case of moral delinquency such as deliberate lying, obscenity of words or act or flagrant insubordination which shall be limited to 6 cuts on the hand and shall be given only by headmaster or under the supervision of headmaster."
He recalls a case in the Madras High court in 1962, where a schoolteacher, who punished a boy, was prosecuted on charges of inflicting injury on a minor.
"The Children Act of 1960 clearly states that school children shall not be subjected to corporal punishment," says V.Kannadasan, special public prosecutor.
Advocate Sudha Ramalingam notes: "The Indian society is not conversant with the ideology of teaching with affection and persuasion. We still have parents and teachers who believe in beating children to discipline them. Corporal punishment is a criminal offence. Parents can file a complaint at the police station or with the local magistrate, with the knowledge of district education authorities."
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) explicitly protects children from all forms of physical violence (Article 19) and from inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment (Article 37). "Beating children is a breach of human rights, a violation of human dignity and a person's right to equal protection under the law," says K.Shanmugavelayutham, convenor, Tamil Nadu Forum for Crèche and Childcare Services.
Though a criminal offence, the absence of a State Act specifically banning corporal punishment prevents departmental action from being initiated. Senior Counsel P.Chandrasekaran notes that Goa and Andhra Pradesh have such an Act in place. "Corporal punishment is also punishable under the Juvenile Justice Act."
Educationists say they have done their part to ensure teachers do not resort to corporal punishment.
Former director of the Central Board of Secondary Education G. Balasubramanian says the Board has never supported corporal punishment. "We have communicated to schools under our purview that corporal punishment is not permissible. We have always believed that counselling rather than punishment will be more effective."
Chief Educational Officer of the Chennai District D.Rajendran has instructed headmasters and principals to avoid corporal punishment. "Whenever we hear of such an incident, we take immediate action."
Director of the Institute of Child Health R.Kulandai Kasthuri says physical or emotional abuse should be banned in schools. "Hurting a child in his groin (as in Alexander's case) can result in permanent damage such as sterility. If the abdomen is badly hurt, it could result in internal bleeding or something life threatening." Besides causing pain and trauma, the child's psyche could be scarred for life.