Child abuse in public sector schools
June 2008: Children are our most valuable resource and the best hope for the future. They
need care, compassion and respect by the older members of society. In an attempt
to see the extent of the problem of child abuse in public sector schools, an
empirical study was conducted by this researcher, which examines the prevailing
practices in public sector schools with respect to child abuse.
qualitative research paradigm has been adopted with a major thrust on
phenomenology (a study of experience or consciousness). Six primary schools have
been observed in a longitudinal fashion and 30 primary school students have been
interviewed. The results indicate that children in public sector schools
experience different forms of violence. They are exposed to corporal punishment,
cruel and humiliating forms of verbal and emotional abuse, psychological, sexual
and gender-based abuse.
Another critical incident that was very
frequently observed was teachers using discriminatory practices against students
from poor families or marginalised groups, or those with particular personal
characteristics or a disability. These prevalent practices of violence have been
repeatedly reported as reasons for absenteeism, dropping out and lack of
motivation for academic achievement.
Childcare is universal. In a modern
school, a child is no longer thought to be a mere passive receiver to be filled
like you fill a sack. It has often been said, "We learn what we live and in the
degree that we accept it to live by". This involves the whole person - how he
feels, how he thinks. It involves a shift in educational emphasis from subject
matter to the whole child. The interests, needs and problems of the students are
accepted as an important means of getting them to understand the interests,
needs and problems of their society.
The ability of the student to think
(and where necessary to think as a member of a group) is recognised as a way to
develop self-discipline. On the other hand, when children's problems and needs
are not understood and they are treated with humiliation, they might learn to
react in the same manner too. Child abuse no doubt is a major social problem and
can create conflicts at many levels.
November 20 is celebrated every year
as the International Day of the Child as this was the day the UN General
Assembly first adopted the Declaration of the Right of the Child in 1959. The
convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) was first formally registered in
1990 by the UN General Assembly.
Pakistan is also one of the signatories
of the convention and believes in the dignity and integrity of every child. The
convention, which no doubt is the most universally-accepted human rights
instruments in history, establishes an international law that the state must
ensure that all children - without discrimination in any form benefit from
special protective measures and assistance; have access to services such as
education and health care; can develop their personality, ability and talent to
the fullest potential; grow up in a happy, caring environment; and are informed
about and participate in achieving their rights.
However, children are
not accorded with the same respect in every society. The practices of child
abuse are prevalent in almost every society though they may take different forms
Children are abused in families at times; criminals and other
members around them abuse them but the school is a formal agency responsible for
the grooming and nurturing of the child, therefore it cannot afford to expose
the child to negative experiences.
This problem is seen in its severity
in public sector schools as compared to the private schools. Since public sector
schools cater to the masses, the problem takes a graver dimension. A majority of
our lower-middle class and lower-class children go to public schools. Educating
these children, eradicating illiteracy; preventing a high dropout rate and
providing universal primary education is one of the major challenges Pakistan is
facing today. We need to carefully expose these children to healthy experiences
rather than discouraging ones. Three major types of child abuse frequently
observed in schools include corporal punishment, verbal or emotional abuse, and
It stands first as a very
frequent occurrence. Most commonly it was observed that children were exposed to
different forms of physical punishment, irrespective of the fact that their
classes or gender did not permit such treatment. Five-year-olds (boys as well as
girls) were seen exposed to beating and caning. Moreover, slaps on the face were
commonly observed with red marks on the cheeks. Children from the senior grades
were seen standing on desks with their hands up; standing outside the class (in
the hot sun) for an indefinite period; kneeling outside the class; and standing
in the class while holding their ears. In addition to this, they were exposed to
excessive spanking and slapping in front of the other children.
treatment was most commonly seen accorded to the male students by the male
teachers as an attempt to maintain discipline in class. A thin seven-year-old
from class II was observed standing outside the class, holding his ears with
tears rolling down his cheeks; his body numb and shaken; he was meted out this
treatment for not having brought his homework copy.
experience was observing class-V girls (10-year-olds), standing with their hands
up. Not only did they paint a nasty picture; they also raised a pointing finger
at our norms and cultural values. It is widely accepted that no healthy purpose
can be attained through physical punishment. Teachers should rather go for
different forms of reinforcements and behavior modification techniques rather
than adhering to these tactics, as they are unlikely to bring fruitful results.
For many children, school is a great place to learn, socialise and build their
self-esteem; for a child who is bullied, school can be a house of
terror.Verbal and emotional abuse
This stands second in
frequency as compared to corporal punishment. Verbal and emotional abuse also
takes a toll on a child's mental health. A child exposed to verbal abuse very
often might not have the mental strength to care about his grades; he might
experience anger or violent outbursts at home or school, which would ultimately
build up anger and resentment within him. Victims of this kind of abuse are
likely to become passive and overly cautious, have fear for free expression of
ideas and feelings, might become perpetrators of psychological violence and are
less likely than other children to internalise moral values. They are more
inclined to engage in disorderly and aggressive conduct such as hitting their
siblings, parents and schoolmates. During the inquiry, teachers were seen using
abusive language very frequently, calling the children names and making fun of
their distinctive features or any disability, if they suffered from
Recognising students' basic needs and
problems, providing them with qualitative feedback, listening to all their
queries, giving counseling, lending an ear to their problems, providing them
with retrieval questions, reinforcement and encouragement are some of the
privileges of teaching. This element is seen missing in schools
The graph above shows the intensity and degree of different forms
of physical punishment the children were seen exposed to. The five different
colours show five schools.
A highly-predictive validity is reflected.
Schools have an important role in protecting children from abuse. On the
contrary, many educational settings expose children to abuse and may even teach
them abuse. The interview sessions with the young ones revealed that children
value and respect kind and comforting teachers who explain things to them rather
than drill the facts into their head.
Research suggests that children who
are victims of abuse, can go on to develop anti-social and criminal behaviour in
the future. Like the parents, the adults who oversee and manage staff schools,
have a duty to provide a safe and nurturing environment that supports and
promotes children's education and development. They also have a duty to insure
that the children go on to become responsible adults who would care about gender
equality, non-discrimination, tolerance and mutual respect.
can be prevented through two-facetted goals. The first one holds that the
actions or situations that are harmful for children should be controlled, while
the second advocates promoting a healthy and nurturing environment. Hence,
decreasing risk factors and increasing protective buffers should be the
foundations of all preventive efforts.By Dr Zaira Wahab (Dawn)
The writer is assistant professor at a private university. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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