Beating for asking for help: corporal punishment in Indian schools | Transform institutions

Despite widespread concern about the effects of corporal punishment on children, it persists in schools around the world. Its eradication in many countries is proving difficult, and India is no exception.

Violence against girls is now a political priority in India, after the horrific and fatal gang rape of a student in Delhi in 2012 led to demonstrations demanding an end to sexual violence against girls and women. However, more everyday forms of violence can go unnoticed or unchallenged, and limited academic attention has focused on gender differences in the way punishments are meted out to boys and girls at home, at school, and at school. in society in general. For children in many parts of India, femininity standards mean that girls should be submissive and submissive, and not be “naughty.” Ideas about masculinity can mean that boys are said to be able to accept corporal punishment and resist pain.

India ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1992, and has many policies that prohibit corporal punishment in schools. But these seem out of step with everyday realities. The Children’s Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009 guarantees schooling for all children between the ages of 6 and 14. There is a teacher shortage in schools, and class sizes are very large, forcing teachers to monitor large numbers of children.

The government of India commissioned research which included more than 3,000 children aged 5 to 18, interviewed about physical abuse by teachers. Across all age groups, 65% reported being beaten up in school. Our own findings confirm these figures. Younger children (aged 7-8) were significantly more likely to have witnessed and experienced corporal punishment than the 14-15 cohort, with more than two-thirds of younger children having been physically punished in the process. school during the previous week. , compared to a third of older young people. Poorer children were more likely than less poor children to be punished.

However, among children aged 14 to 15, we have found that both girls and boys experience routine corporal punishment, with boys particularly affected. There was a less clear distinction in the use of corporal punishment between boys and girls in the younger cohort. This may be because corporal punishment is part of the socialization of young children, but when they are older it is no longer seen as an appropriate way to discipline young women, while young men are ’empowered’. can be prescriptive.

Younger children (aged 7 to 8) were significantly more likely to have witnessed and experienced corporal punishment than adolescents. Photography: Young Lives

It can be seen as part of the socialization of boys and their transition into adulthood. A 15-year-old boy complained about the unfairness of beating boys, whom he considered to be much more punished than girls. The violence that children and young people experience in schools may not be visibly gendered, but it can reinforce gender differentiation because of the way it is employed by male and female teachers. Some children, for example, said they were particularly afraid of male physical education teachers. However, the reality is that young boys and girls are physically abused in schools, and it is the children who make them vulnerable, rather than their gender.

Reasons to be punished

Girls and boys spoke of a whole host of other reasons for punishment, including being absent from school for work, illness or attending family celebrations, skipping classes, not doing school. homework, not reading well, making mistakes, getting bad marks on exams, not wearing a uniform, not having the right equipment, or not paying the teacher for extra lessons. A 10 year old girl said:

“If we don’t study, they beat us. If we ask other kids for help, they beat [us]. I went to drink water without asking sir, so he beat me this time. They said all kids should come back to class by the time they count 10 after the interval. But I came home [to use the toilet]. After I got back to school, he beat me.

Punished for poverty

Poverty in the home has also clearly influenced disciplinary practices at school. Living in poverty meant that children were sometimes not able to follow school rules and expectations. The children described being punished for not having a uniform or the right equipment, or money to pay the fees.

One mother mentioned that the only thing her seven-year-old daughter said about school was that the teachers beat her:

“She studies well, she goes there and comes back regularly, but when there is no dress [uniform] and when we delay paying the fees, then she won’t go, she refuses to go …

Child in school India
Children are physically punished for missing school to help out on their family farm. Photography: Young Lives

As Young Lives’ data has shown, economic constraints and family circumstances mean that boys and girls in rural areas engage in seasonal agricultural work on family land and miss school for days, days and hours. weeks or months at a time. Even though boys and girls did different jobs depending on their gender, the impact was the same: when they returned to school, they were punished. Although older boys rarely spoke directly about their fears of punishment, their mothers spoke about their sons’ emotions. Ranadeep’s mother explained:

“Without him, we cannot manage the family, we have no workers and there is no other way for us. When he comes back to school they yell at him and he is terrified … His dad goes there and informs them … they scold us, they say “how is he going to do if he is absent so long ?”. .. We try to appease them by telling them about our problems at home.

What can be done?

In global policy debates, emphasis has been placed on the role of education as a solution not only to reduce cycles of poverty in developing countries, but also to address gender-based violence.

However, the evidence presented here suggests that we need to question this, at least in the Indian context. All children, regardless of their gender, experience high levels of physical violence in school. But it is the adolescents who suffer the most.

But blaming specific groups (teachers and / or parents) will not lead to progress and risks alienating teachers who are already under pressure due to overcrowded classrooms, poor infrastructure and situations of poverty.

Approaches need to develop not only from top to bottom, but also from communities, families and teachers to find ways to work together to change practices.

Violence as an integral part of schooling can have developmental consequences for boys and girls that go beyond the here and now of childhood to the social and economic factors of age adult. In India, this has to be understood in the context of the high expectations that parents and children have of schools. Some children do not like school for many reasons, but if they drop out of school because of their experience of corporal punishment, and if they learn that corporal punishment is the solution to inappropriate behavior, then formal schooling may inadvertently reinforce both cycles of poverty. and the use of violence.

A longer version of this article was posted on Young Lives Blog on Poverty and Child Development.

Virginia Morrow is Senior Research Fellow at Young lives and one Oxford University Associate Professor. To follow @yloxford on Twitter.

Join our community development professionals and humanitarians. To follow@GuardianGDP on Twitter.

Previous More poor children in Indian schools, but 30% suffer from malnutrition
Next Indian armed forces occupy schools | New Internationalist