In rare unity, MNAs jump to child’s defence

The lower house of parliament on Tuesday unanimously gave the final nod to a legislation that when enacted would make corporal punishment and humiliation of children a punishable offence with minor and major penalties for the violators.

The National Assembly showed rare unity in passing the bill, as lawmakers from both sides of the aisle were on the same page – against hitting children.

“The child has the right to be shown respect for his personality and individuality and shall not be made to corporal punishment or any other humiliating or degrading treatment,” Section 3 of the Islamabad Capitol Territory Prohibition of Corporal Punishment Act, 2019, stated.

The bill, moved by PML-N MNA Mehnaz Akbar Aziz, will not only ban all corporal punishment but forbid cruel, degrading and humiliating treatment of children by any person at any workplace, in schools and other educational institutions including formal, non-formal, and religious, both public and private, in child care institutions including foster care, rehabilitation centres and any other alternative care settings, both public and private, and in the Juvenile Justice System.

In addition to the treasury benches supporting the bill, Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari suggested an amendment that would make filing complaints in court possible. The amendment was passed.

“The previous version of the bill stated that complaints must be made to the government committee formed for the purpose,” Mazari said, adding that now the court could be approached directly.

“Disciplinary measures concerning the child can only be taken in accordance with the child’s dignity, and under no circumstances corporal punishments, or punishments which relate to the child’s physical and mental development or which may affect the child’s emotional status are allowed,” Clause 3 of the Section 3 of the bill states.

According to the bill, “corporal” or “physical” means “any punishment in which physical force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort, however light it may be, which may involve hitting, smacking, slapping, spanking a child, with the hand or with an implement (a whip, stick, belt, shoe, wooden spoon, etc) including kicking, shaking or throwing a child, scratching, pinching, biting, pulling hair or boxing ears”.

“Forcing a child to stay in uncomfortable positions, burning, scalding, or forced ingestion for example, washing a child’s mouth out with soap or forcing him to swallow hot spices, including mental abuse or any other kind of punishment.”

The bill defines “assault” as defined in Section 351 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), “hurt” as defined in Section 332 of PPC and “criminal force” as defined in Section 350 of the code.

Under minor penalties, the bill has included censure; withholding promotion or increment; stoppage from promotion for a specific period and recovery from pay of the whole or any part of any pecuniary loss caused to government by negligence or breach of orders.

Major penalties include demotion, compulsory retirement as well as removal and dismissal from service.

The statement of objects and reasons states that physicians, psychologists and educationists around the globe have pointed out towards negative effects of physical punishment of children on their mental and cognitive development.

It maintains that countless studies have proved that corporal punishment and uncongenial learning environment creates a number of psycho-social imbalances in the personalities of children, including aggression.

Experts have consensus that physical punishment can have adverse consequences on the child’s health, particularly their behaviour and emotional wellbeing, it states, adding that one of the reasons attributed to the higher drop-out rate in schools and low-learning outcomes of students is physical punishment and castigation of pupils by the teachers.

In accordance with United Nations Convention on Rights of Child (1989) ratified by Pakistan, it is now the responsibility of the state to protect children from all forms of physical and mental violence and maltreatment. “Therefore, it is desirable that corporal punishment is banned legally and declared an offence through an Act,” it concluded.

(This story has been published from The Express Tribune feed, without modifications to the text)