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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Rapping on the knuckles

If the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights has its way, school officials could now land in jail even for scolding students or calling them "stupid" or "mindless" in class. Expanding the definition of corporal punishment to cover any form of adverse treatment—from scolding to death—the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has urged parents to be fearless in filing FIRs against schools if children complain of such abuse. On Thursday, the commission directed the chief secretaries of states to ensure that complaints by parents against schools were treated on an immediate basis. As per the directive issued by NCPCR chief Shanta Sinha, the term corporal punishment would cover "rapping on the knuckles, running on the school ground, kneeling down for hours, standing up for long hours". Beating the child with a scale (ruler), pinching and slapping, sexual abuse, torture, locking up children alone in classrooms, electric shocks and acts leading to insult, humiliation, physical and mental injury, and even death also count as corporal punishment, she said. Under the new directives, even written impositions are a no-no. "Even calling a child an idiot or stupid or mindless, or asking him or her to write sentences condemning their mistakes in class or slapping a child are a severe insult and humiliation for the child," Sinha told . "These acts are also corporal punishment and constitute a breach of human rights. So, we want to empower parents to lodge FIRs against school officials if their children have been subjected to such violence. And all state education departments have to ensure that no adverse action is taken against these kids in school for complaining against them." The NCPCR chairperson also dismissed grading punishment. "There should not be any gradation as far as corporal punishment is concerned, as condoning the so-called small acts may lead to gross violations in future." In 2000, the supreme court had banned corporal punishment for children but instances of severe treatment have emerged in the last few days. Only about a week ago in Rajasthan, a class XII student died two days after his teacher thrashed him. Meanwhile, an Andhra Pradesh schoolteacher was found to be subjecting students to electric shocks in connivance with the headmaster. In its letter, the commission directed the states to spread awareness among children through campaigns and publicity drives that corporal punishment was legally impermissible and they had the right to speak against it. It will also be mandatory for schools to display the guidelines issued by thecommission. "All schools should have a complaint box for students to put in their grievances, which will be reviewed in the parents' and teachers' (PTA) meetings and necessary action should be taken against the teachers concerned. At the same time, the education departments need to review and monitor the process and report to us at regular intervals," said Sinha. The latest directive also stated that every school—including hostels, juvenile justice homes, shelter homes and other public institutions meant for children—must have a forum where children can express their views. "Due to fear, children are often silent and submit to violence without questioning. At times, they show signals of deep hurt in their behaviour but this goes unnoticed, perpetuating further violence on them. It's necessary for adults to behave reasonably with them and ensure that they are not subjected to violence and hurt of any kind...Fostering such a culture will help in thedevelopment of adults who behave responsibly and who will in turn be vigilant and question those breaking the norms of respecting childhood," Sinha added.


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