On January 13, 2010 a ban was imposed on corporal punishment by the divisional bench declaring it as “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment and a clear violation of a child's fundamental right to life, liberty and freedom.” More than seven years have already passed but the issue has been brought to light time and again with news of school children being severely beaten by their teachers. The decision on this ban was no doubt received with praise from all corners of society but when we read news about teachers brutally beating students, it sheds doubt on the ban's effectiveness.
Disciplining a child, whether in homes or educational institutions, is felt as “necessary” and any concerned teacher or parent would not allow children to behave in a wayward manner. So the concern about disciplinary issues still remains among teachers as the implications of this law are far-reaching and will affect the new generation.
We, Bangladeshis, uphold our traditional values strongly and, unlike people of the western world, are less “horrified” by the idea of punishing a child corporally as long as it is for the betterment of the child and not meant to harm the child physically or mentally. Historically speaking, corporal punishment was administered in homes as well as in educational institutions as a means of disciplining children in many parts of the world. People of older generations, especially in the eastern part of the world, often regarded it as necessary to bring up a child in the proper way, and hence the proverb “Spare the road and spoil the child.”
In countries like ours where some people even today hold on to traditional values, we normally do not equate corporal punishment to “violence” or “assault.” Neither do we, unlike the people of the western world, question the moral fibre of parents or their sense of decency when they adopt corporal punishment as a means of raising their children as disciplined human beings.
While all of us agree that causing harm to a child is totally wrong, one also needs to understand the idea behind corporal punishment. I remember reading an article where the writer made a clear distinction between “abuse” and “corporal punishment”. Abuse is done in anger with the sole purpose of harming the child physically or mentally, particularly when a person in anger loses control over himself/herself and crosses the boundary. Corporal punishment, on the other hand, is a means of punishment which parents of the bygone days and teachers used to “correct” a child's behaviour.
In certain institutions, it was measured and carried out in a predetermined manner without emotion. I myself was raised in a family where my parents and especially my mother often resorted to corporal punishment but they knew it well when my behaviour needed to be corrected. I've never experienced any kind of physical or mental abuse. Since the ban has been imposed, I've talked to a number of my students and most of them admitted that they were punished corporally at homes and educational institutions.
However, none of them admitted that they bear any grudges against their parents or teachers and accept it as a way to ensure discipline. Many even said that they were told by their parents that “the parts of the body where they were beaten by the teacher would go to heaven first.”
While I believe that parents and teachers used corporal punishment as a means to guide young children's behaviour, this is far from being a complete or valid method of ensuring discipline. There are many sincere teachers but there are also a few who are not tolerant enough and might use corporal punishment as a form of abuse. We cannot help but be concerned when we read news like the one where a teacher's mindless beating broke a child's hand or caused severe injury—and of course there's the mental trauma. These instances are enough to call for not just a ban but also the proper implementation of the ban in educational institutions.
But “ban on corporal punishment” does not mean “ban on any punishment.” A child should never be allowed to behave waywardly, be it within the family or educational institution. To raise them as ideal citizens, some sort of disciplinary methods need to be adopted. The American system of demerits, detentions, expulsions and suspensions is quite effective.
In this respect, I can relate my experiences of being taught in a missionary school and college where the authority had a clearly defined and well-maintained system of rules. One of the main characteristics of the system was constant monitoring. The principal was always watchful and monitored all the classrooms regularly and strictly. I remember in college, we would often find the principal standing at the window monitoring our behaviour in the classroom and I have little doubt now that the monitoring included the teacher's behaviour as well. The fear of detention and, worse still, expulsion was so strong that we hardly dared to break any rule. The outcome of this emotionless, yet effective system was a beautiful environment where the teachers and students alike abided by the rules.
Many would say, however, that maintaining this kind of disciplinary system seems like an unrealistic idea as in most rural schools we only have a few teachers who already have their hands full. Besides, a whole body of employees is needed to look into the disciplinary matters, which is simply unthinkable in our situation. But many good changes are coming in and we may start with schools and colleges where it is possible to implement such rules. Unless we come up with some proper measures of ensuring discipline in all the educational institutions, the effectiveness of this ban will remain doubtful.
Arjumand Ara is an assistant professor at the University of Asia Pacific.