The Sindh and Khyber Pakthunkwa assemblies have passed some highly appreciable bills in recent weeks. The Sindh assembly recently passed a bill that prohibits corporal punishment or any other humiliating or degrading treatment to children by any person in all its forms. Under the bill, which was tabled by Mehtab Akbar Rashdi of the Pakistan Muslim League-Functional, protection has been given to children against punishments to cause pain or discomfort by hitting, smacking, slapping, spanking, kicking, shaking or throwing child, scratching, pinching, biting, pulling hair or boxing ears or forcing child to stay in uncomfortable positions, burning, scalding or forced ingestion by any person in the family and workplace, in schools and other educational institutions including formal, non-formal, religious, both public and private, child care institutions including foster care, rehabilitation centres and other alternative care settings and in the juvenile justice system.
When one considers the importance being placed on the value of children in our society it is surprising that there are so few legislations done to protect their rights – and in cases where the legislations do exist the implementation on them is a dream that remains unfulfilled. Cases of children being beaten up in schools, mistreatment in general, the rampant cases of abuse of child servants, the abuse of child laborers and the ever growing cases of rape of children being reported in the media are harrowing. What is even worse is that the departments tasked with dealing with such cases and the federal and provincial governments remains largely apathetic to the problem apart from taking ‘notice’ of such incidents.
The bill passed by the Sindh assembly deserves appreciation as it bars not only corporal punishment but also bars any other humiliating or degrading treatment to children by any person. The need to stop the culture of corporal punishment in schools is vital as schools are expected to provide children a safe environment where they can learn and nourish their abilities. But when these very places become a symbol of fear and distress, how can a child develop his abilities or be able to learn anything? The bill passed by the Sindh assembly is vital because like already mentioned it not only bans corporal punishment but also applies anywhere where the child might be, at school, workplace in the street or at home. The broad nature of the bill provides vital protection to Children in Sindh that was lacking before.
The bill states that disciplinary measures concerning the child can only be taken in accordance with the child’s dignity and under no circumstances corporal punishments that relate to the child’s physical and mental development or that may affect the child’s emotional status are allowed. Whoever violates the provisions of the act shall be liable to punishments prescribed for the said offences in the Pakistan Penal Code, 1860, and other respective laws.
What the Sindh government needs to ensure now is that the bill is implemented fully both in letter and spirit. As already pointed out the lack of implementation on various laws is as much a problem as the lack of laws is. The bill is a good start and with proper implementation it has the potential to transform the way children are treated by the society. At the same time there is also need to raise awareness regarding such laws, this can help in two ways; it will raise the confidence level in children when they know they are protected by law and secondly the violators will also think twice before taking any unlawful step.
Society also needs to speak up against this reprehensible practice.