Disciplining the other wayThe ban on all forms of corporal punishment in all settings is a great achievement.
Physical punishment is still a common phenomenon in homes and schools in the South Asian context. The form of punishment and its legal status and purpose can change in different settings. The use of physical force to maintain discipline in homes and schools is a long-standing practice in Nepal. Sometimes, parents, caregivers and teachers have a favourable impression of the ‘strict discipline’ (hitting) to make things happen in accordance with the traditional principle of right and wrong. Non-violent parenting and teaching is the final objective of all initiatives to end corporal punishment in the country.
The government endorsed the Children’s Act 2018, intending to pave the way to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of children in Nepal. More specifically, the act bans all corporal punishment of children, making Nepal the 54th state in the world, and the first in South Asia, to achieve full prohibition. The legal base of the act seems quite strong and in line with constitutional as well as global initiatives for the cause. The constitution of Nepal includes a section on the rights of children and Article 39 (7) states that: ‘No child shall be subjected to physical, mental, or any other forms of torture at home, in school, or in any other places or situations.’ It also guarantees the right of every person to ‘live with dignity’ (Article 16) and to ‘equal protection of law’ (Article 18).
The ban on all forms of corporal punishment in all settings is a great achievement. Now, the legal provision is clear for taking action against children’s punishment. The agenda of corporal punishment and its banning in Nepal has been highlighted through different ways such as research studies on disciplining students in schools, articles in leading newspapers and journals, local and global campaigns, and pressure from child rights activists. The positive effort from all stakeholders has brought about a significant result in the country. Till today, corporal punishment is legal in 19 states in the United States.
The matter of hitting at Nepali schools has sporadically made the news. School should be a safe and supportive environment for students, where they can learn and thrive. Students who show irregular attendance and poor performance, and students with disabilities—who already face unfair disciplinary practices—have to suffer the harmful effects of physical punishment. Sadly, many students who are being physically punished in school are usually found to be under some sort of psychological pressure. It is clear that students often receive corporal punishment for subjective, and minor, disruptive behaviour such as talking back, not turning in homework, violating the dress code, laughing, using cell phones, being late to class and using ‘inappropriate’ language.
Much like in the criminal justice system, prejudice in our schools has also been institutionalised in several respects. The way a teacher looks at a particular student carries great importance. Minor physical force or scolding can lead to lasting mental, emotional and physical effects on students. Some people still practice or encourage this abuse because they believe in the old, ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’ myth. The fact of the matter is that one child who experiences corporal punishment is one child too many. Corporal punishment does not improve behaviour. In fact, spanking can be associated with increased aggression and behavioural issues, poor mental health, reduced cognitive ability and low self-esteem.
Instead of physical punishment, all stakeholders should consider more positive approaches like culturally inclusive teaching that affirms students’ identities and school settings that allow students to be themselves and interact with diverse students who are unlike themselves. It is always imperative to offer training and support for educators. In underdeveloped countries like Nepal, greater access to mental health services and school counsellors for students is recommended. It’s time to see the humanity in students. It is important that we ask ourselves certain questions: What signals are being sent to students about their value and self-worth when they are physically punished in public? What message will be transferred to their peers who witness this occurring?
In connection with the legal ban on corporal punishment in the country, the most important thing now is its proper implementation. First, attention needs to be given to strengthening awareness-raising campaigns to inform parents, teachers and professionals working with children—particularly in institutions—as well as the general public and the media, about the negative impact of corporal punishment and the ill-treatment of children. Positive, participatory and non-violent forms of discipline should be administrated in a manner consistent with the child’s human dignity. Parents, school teachers and care-providers need to be informed about the legal ban on physical punishment.
Moreover, corporal punishment, as a topic, should be included in the secondary level curriculum in order to educate students, teachers and parents that there should be ‘no hitting’. The role of national and local media is paramount in edifying the people about the negative effects of corporal punishment and the promotion of positive discipline. National and international researchers, activists and social organisations that worked for banning corporal punishment in Nepal need to work again for the systematisation of the legal provision. Let’s raise awareness to institutionalise the achievement in the country.
Regmi is associated with the Nepal Youth Foundation