In Focus

Most children get beaten in school, almost all parents condone

Rajiv Shah* | Ahmedabad

A recent report prepared by researchers with the civil rights group Agrasar has revealed that of the 521 children from marginalised groups surveyed in Gurugram, Haryana, 80 per cent are punished at school. Based on data collected from semi-urban communities in Gurugram, the report’s conclusions also take into account survey of 100 parents, personal interviews with 26 children, discussions from three focus groups and one seasonal calendar exercise with 29 parents.

According to the report titled 'Choking Childhood: School Corporal Punishment - Everyday Violence Faced by Disadvantaged Children in India', responses in the interview sample suggest the number of children experiencing punishment might be as high as 100 per cent and 'the large majority of parents (91 per cent) not only approve of corporal punishment but also use it at home. Thus, 71 per cent of children said they were beaten up at home, while 74 per cent of parents admitted to it.'

The report further states 'An average of 43 per cent of children are beaten regularly, up to three times per week, by their teachers but the number varies greatly between schools. In some schools, 88 per cent of students are beaten regularly, while in others ‘only’ 30 per cent. In fact, children are told by their teachers and parents that corporal punishment with "a good reason" is necessary.'

The combined result of all this is that 'Children find themselves trapped in an abusive environment with little chance of escape. Some evidence suggests that older children are less likely to experience school corporal punishment compared to younger children. However, when looking at disadvantaged children we find little difference between ages. The frequency and severity of punishment are similar, only the forms are different.'

Pointing out that 'Gender does not seem to be a major risk factor to experience corporal punishment, and there are gender-specific forms of punishment with girls experiencing sexist verbal abuse and humiliating forms of punishment,' the report, however, states that 'boys in upper primary schools receive more physical punishment than girls.'

Disadvantaged children experience both ‘mild’ and 'severe' forms of physical punishment as well as verbal harassment. Younger children and boys are more prone to physical abuse, while older students and girls tend to receive more verbal harassment by their teachers.

Stating that the interviewed children 'experience' physical punishment in different ways, the report further states the forms that are described by the children as 'least painful' and 'not so serious' include making the students 'stand in class for the whole period, sometimes with their hands raised, pulling their ears or hair, doing sit-ups, making them stand outside and also slapping them in the face. It adds, 'while slapping is typically perceived as an act of utter disrespect and therefore a very serious act of violence, the children experience it so often that many of them like certain teachers because they ‘only slap’. Other forms of punishment include not allowing the children to use the bathroom, even if the student asks multiple times or pinching them in the abdomen.'

'More painful forms,' the report says, include 'hitting the knuckles with a duster or scale and caning the children on their calves, both of which are very hurtful as those body parts are sensitive.' Then, 'teachers also punish children by threatening to expel them from the school or embarrassing them in front of the class which according to the children has a strong and lasting impact on them.'

Not only are children subjected to severe forms of violence, they face psychological torture also. For example, several children gave accounts of a teacher who not only banged students' heads against the wall but turned it into a 'game' where he pretended to strike a few times before eventually hitting the child's head against the classroom wall.

Disadvantaged children experience mental abuse mainly in reference to their low socio-economic status. Teachers use ‘Bihari’ or ‘Bengali’ as a disparaging term for all students who are not locals and call them ‘donkey’, ‘uneducated’, ‘illiterate’ and with ‘a bad upbringing’.

As for gender-specific punishment, 'boys are pinched in their abdomen and rib-cage, girls are caned on their thighs' and teachers make 'sexist comments to girl students about marriage, adolescence, their appearances, age, weight etc. and often recommen’ marriage instead of education.'

The report further states that female children are often not considered of equal capabilities and skills compared to their male counterparts, especially in technical subjects such as math or science. Many teachers do not interfere when boys bully girls or put down a girl's work in front of the class which instills toxic gender stereotypes in children and teaches boys how to ‘shut up’ girls and ‘put them in their place’.

* The writer is Editor of Counterview. A version of this article first appeared here.

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