Curbing crimes against children has long remained an uphill battle for Sindh, where despite the existence of legal framework, right of child are routinely infringed upon in broad daylight. Regrettably and rather shamefully, the province’s schools and seminaries continue to remain on the forefront of the violence.
Reports from various districts suggest that teachers at these institutions have been in the habit of punishing minor students by subjecting them to grossly inhumane and degrading treatments, which frequently lead to mental and physical harm.
The latest incident to cause alarm, is a video that went viral on social media, revealing a seminary cleric in Umerkot district berating and torturing three students, hardly between the ages of seven to eight years old. “Why are you people always late? I will murder you if you repeat the mistake once more,” the cleric can be heard sniggering in the video, while thrashing the little boys like rag dolls.
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Although distressing to watch, the viral video is just a droplet in the ocean of such cases and incidents that make news every day. Noticing which, some four years ago, the Sindh Assembly had passed The Sindh Prohibition of Corporal Punishment Bill 2016, to protect children from violence in all types of educational institutions and childcare facilities.
In its details, the bill not only sought to outlaw the use of injurious force against children, but also all inhumane treatments and punishments that may lead to any kind of physical or mental distress for the student. In one of its clauses, the bill also paid particular emphasis on the protection of the child’s right to be respected for his/her human dignity and physical integrity.
Yet however, where the landmark law may have appeared well rounded on paper, it has had little impact on the lives of Sindh’s children, as it still lingers in uncertainty four years after.
According to National Commission on the Rights of Child (NCRC) Sindh Chapter Member Iqbal Ahmed Detho, the rules of the law have been drafted but have been waiting for final approval. “The law suggests major and minor punishments, ranging from withholding of promotion to dismissal from service, depending on the severity of the crime. In addition to that, it also mandates all educational institutions, be they private or government, to form child protection committees at local level to protect children from all forms of violence including corporal or any other punishment. The child protection committees are bound to investigate and take decision within fifteen days after the receipt of the complaint,” informed Detho.
However, a copy of the provincial government’s rules for the law, which is available with The Express Tribune, revealed that the child protection committees formed at the local level (after investigation) will refer the cases to District Education Officer for further investigation and action against the person who tortured the child.
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“In case of severe case of child abuse, violence injury and exploitation, the committee shall immediately inform police or child protection authority and its concerned officials for immediate action,” the rules said adding that the government will have to make arrangements for temporary protection service for safe accommodation of victims who appear to be in need of immediate protection. Furthermore, the rules also specified that all arrangements for such children suffering from any trauma, resulting from violence or abuse, will be the responsibility of child protection authority.
Howbeit, the Sindh Child Protection Authority Act that was passed in 2011 to form the Child Protection Authority, appears to have had little to no impact on the rights of children. “So far, there is hardly any committee formed on a district level to provide relief to the children,” said a Sindh government official on conditions of anonymity.
On the other hand, the spokesperson to the provincial health minister while addressing the matter shared that the long awaited anti-corporal punishment bill is currently on the brink of finalisation. “We still take action against whoever registers the complaints or whenever there are media reports of such incidents. The Sindh education minister has been vigilant about this issue and has already conveyed authorities that corporal or other form of punishment will not be tolerated at school level,” he told The Express Tribune.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 30th, 2021.