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Definition of Corporal Punishment

All forms of corporal punishment including sexual abuse are harmful to the child. Currently, there is no statutory definition of corporal punishment of children in Indian law. Definition of corporal punishment can at best only be indicative. In keeping with the provisions of the RTE Act, 2009, corporal punishment could be classified as physical punishment, mental harassment and discrimination.

Physical Punishment

  • Physical punishment is understood as any action that causes pain, hurt/injury and discomfort to a child, however light. Examples of physical punishment include but are not restricted to the following:
  • Causing physical harm to children by hitting, kicking, scratching, pinching, biting, pulling the hair, boxing ears, smacking, slapping, spanking or with any implement (cane, stick, shoe, chalk, dusters, belt, whip, giving electric shock etc.);
  • Making children assume an uncomfortable position (standing on bench, standing against the wall in a chair-like position, standing with schoolbag on head, holding ears through legs, kneeling etc.);
  • Forced ingestion of anything (for example: washing soap, mud, chalk, hot spices etc.);
  • Detention in the classroom, library, toilet or any closed space in the school.

Mental Harassment

Mental harassment is understood as any non-physical treatment that is detrimental to the academic and psychological well-being of a child. It includes but is not restricted to the following:

  • Sarcasm that hurts or lowers the child’s dignity;
  • Calling names and scolding using humiliating adjectives, intimidation;
  • Using derogatory remarks for the child, including pinning of slogans;
  • Ridiculing the child with regard to her background or status or parental occupation or caste;
  • Ridiculing the child with regard to her health status or that of the family – especially HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis;
  • Belittling a child in the classroom due to his/her inability to meet the teacher’s expectations of academic achievement;
  • Punishing or disciplining a child not recognising that most children who perform poorly in academics are actually children with special needs. Such children could have conditions like learning disability, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, mild developmental delay etc.;
  • Using punitive measures to correct a child and even labelling him/her as difficult; such as a child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder who may not only fare poorly in academics, but also pose a problem in management of classroom behaviours;
  • ‘Shaming’ the child to motivate the child to improve his performance;
  • Ridiculing a child with developmental problems such as learning difficulty or a speech disorder, such as, stammering or speech articulation disorder.

Discrimination

Discrimination is understood as prejudiced views and behaviour towards any child because of her/his caste/gender, occupation or region and non-payment of fees or for being a student admitted under the 25% reservation to disadvantaged groups or weaker sections of society under the RTE, 2009. It can be latent; manifest; open or subtle. It includes but is not restricted to the following:

  • Bringing social attitudes and prejudices of the community into the school by using belittling remarks against a specific social group or gender or ability/disability;
  • Assigning different duties and seating in schools based on caste, community or gender prejudices (for example, cleaning of toilets assigned by caste; task of making tea assigned by gender); admission through 25% reserved seats under the RTE; or non-payment of any prescribed fees;
  • Commenting on academic ability based on caste or community prejudices;
  • Denying mid-day meal or library books or uniforms or sports facilities to a child or group of children based on caste, community, religion or gender;
  • Deliberate/wanton neglect.

UN Definition

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child defines corporal punishment as follows: The Committee defines “corporal” or “physical” punishment as any punishment in which physical force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort, however light. Most involves hitting (“smacking”, “slapping”, “spanking”) children, with the hand or with an implement – a whip, stick, belt, shoe, wooden spoon, etc. But it can also involve, for example, kicking, shaking or throwing children, scratching, pinching, biting, pulling hair or boxing ears, forcing children to stay in uncomfortable positions, burning, scalding or forced ingestion (for example, washing children’s mouths out with soap or forcing them to swallow hot spices). In the view of the Committee, corporal punishment is invariably degrading. In addition, there are other non-physical forms of punishment that are also cruel and degrading and thus incompatible with the Convention. These include, for example, punishment which belittles, humiliates, denigrates, scapegoats, threatens, scares or ridicules the child.

The Committee also notes that corporal punishment can be inflicted in many contexts: Corporal punishment and other cruel or degrading forms of punishment of children take place in many settings, including within the home and family, in all forms of alternative care, schools and other educational institutions and justice systems – both as a sentence of the courts and as a punishment within penal and other institutions – in situations of child labour, and in the community.

This definition is a useful benchmark because it emphasises the various physical forms that corporal punishment might take, and establishes that this full spectrum of physical punishment – even acts that many consider ‘mild’ constitute corporal punishment. There is no threshold below which physical force against a child is acceptable.

Source: The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights



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