KATHMANDU, Nov 16 - Imposition of physical punishment on children for minor to major infractions is a widespread practice all over Nepal. Whether it is at home or in schools, punitive approaches to discipline children are adopted everywhere.
Such corporal punishment includes beating, thrashing, pounding, whipping and even sexual assault. Unfortunately, there are no laws formulated in Nepal to prevent such nasty practices. Instead, the law permits corporal punishment if it is in the best interests of the children. After all, it is the parental and tutorial choice between "Spare the rod and spoil the child" that is in covert operation here.
The Nepal Childrenís Act, 1992 forbids cruel treatment of children while allowing parents, family members and teachers to beat a child lightly if it is for the purpose of correcting behavior. Nepalís Civil Code or Muluki Ain (Laws of the Land) states that guardians and teachers shall not be held responsible if they fatally hurt a child in the course of education or defense; if the beating results in death, they shall be punished with a small fine.
But is corporal punishment really disciplining the children? It is indeed a point to ponder.
The experience of Shilu Shrestha sheds light on this flagrant breach of fundamental human rights. Shilu abhors the term Ďteacherí, and instead of respecting the noble profession of teaching, she is disgusted by it.
Shilu did her schooling from a boarding school (name withheld), an institution that boasted of its unfaltering discipline. Shilu entered the school everyday praying the following day would be a holiday. Everyday, students were beaten or subjected to harsh punishments in the name of correcting them. In her final year of schooling, Shilu underwent an experience that still haunts and disturbs her to this day.
It happened just before her terminal examinations in the 10th standard. The principal (name withheld) made Shilu sit in the front row of the class. As she was suffering from conjunctivitis, the disease that turns chronic when exposed to dust, Shilu pleaded with the principal not to place her in that row since chalk dust constantly entered her eyes. The principal was livid at her request and started hitting her head violently with her duster and hands, humiliating her in the midst of all her classmates.
After this incident, Shilu was unconscious for two months. According to her counselor, she did not recognize anyone even when she had her eyes open. After two months, when she regained her consciousness, Shilu left the school. But even after leaving the school, she received constant threatening calls from the principal, warning her that if she did not rejoin the school, she might have to face deadly consequences.
To this day, Shilu has not been able to overcome the mortification and is frequently haunted by nightmares.
"If you love children, they return the same to you. If you hate them, youíll receive nothing but revulsion from them. What I received was hate and even today Iím full of disgust for teachers in general," says Shilu, and adds, "Even today I pray to God to erase my memory of the dreadful experience so that I can forget my torturous past."
In schools, if a student fails to submit his homework in the class, or appears in improper uniform or breaches some rules, teachers are quick to resort to physical punishment or verbal humiliation to teach them a lesson. Beating them with rulers, sticks, dusters, pulling their hairs, twisting their ears or squeezing a pen between the fingers, pinching, making the students kneel outside the class room, making them stand on their bench or table, slapping, hitting, punching them are the most common examples of corporal punishment.
Corporal punishment, however, is not just limited here. Verbal abuse to make the student feel "low" and shameful is also prevalent. It would not be inappropriate to say that corporal punishment has become a part of the daily lives of schoolchildren.
Though there are many cases of physical harms done to students by teachers, only a very few of them have been registered in the court.
"Once there was a case filed against a teacher who ripped a childís ear while punishing him. But before the case reached the court, both the parties resolved the matter on their own and the case was withdrawn," says advocate Sano Babu Pokharel.
The unchecked system of corporal punishment is also due to the social and cultural system in Nepal. The level of physical violence sanctioned by the society is comparatively high. Little importance is given to the rights and importance of the children. The naÔve and vulnerable groups of the society are considered incapable and the decision about them is therefore considered best left in the hands of teachers and parents. Our culture teaches us to acquiesce with whatever we are told, without questioning. This norm is seen to be taking undue advantage of the children.
Physical chastening has led to a large number of school dropouts. When children are unable to retaliate and remaining submissive becomes hard, the only option remaining is to avoid schooling.
Roshan (real name withheld for privacy) is one such student. While in the 9th grade, Roshan was beaten everyday by his teacher for being poor in mathematics. One day, when he was slapped so hard that his cheeks swelled, he decided to discontinue his studies if it meant undergoing such a harsh process. He then started to bunk classes and landed in the Pashupatinath area where no one would recognize him. There he was introduced to marijuana by a group of local boys. Then he began his venture into the world of drugs.
"Even my parents wouldnít understand my situations. Drugs was a nice way to vent my frustration," confides Roshan. "Deep inside my heart, I want vengeance against the teacher. I want to sabotage his life just like he trampled mine. I want him to pay for his atrocities," says Roshan with fury in his eyes even though he is under treatment and out of addiction now.
Corporal punishment is not just limited to schools. Home is another hellhole where children are the victims of physical punishments. Parents believe that a little beating will help to produce yielding and disciplined children. Instead, they are producing a group of little rebellious gorillas immune to the beatings of their parents.
Corporal punishment results in psychological impediments as well. Students develop a fear of school (school phobia), harness a feeling of vengeance against the teachers or suffer from other cognitive disturbances. This is where corporeal receipts lead to mental reactions and destructive modes in natural and quick sequences.
CIVICT (Center for Victims of Torture in Nepal) is one organization that has been constantly advocating the abrogation of corporal punishments in Nepal. It has been working to prevent violence in Nepali schools since 1995. CIVICT, UNICEF (United Nationís Childrenís Emergency Fund) and Shikshya Patrakar Samuha (Educational Journalists Group) are jointly working on designing manuals for teachers, parents and childrenís club alike. The guidelines will cover various aspects such as granting rights to children, child psychology and consequences of corporal punishments and verbal humiliation and better alternatives to harsh punishments. The charter aims at abolishing the social and legal system of child punishment in Nepal, as in many other countries.
Children have the tendency to internalize all that they see and reflect the same in their actions. So in a society where physical punishment is the norm, children embrace violence and justify its use as well. They may also see violence as the solution to various problems, abandoning peaceful ways of solving them. By resorting to physical punishments, the society is only producing subsequent generations of violent, mentally disturbed and incapacitated Nepali citizens.
It is high time, therefore, that teachers realized the importance of imparting knowledge to their students with dignity. Parents likewise should not convert their homes into torture chambers instead of havens of safety and security for their children. Also, the authorities concerned should promulgate laws to prevent and punish such flagrant breach of fundamental human rights, especially of those in their tender age and formative years.
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