February 24th, 2021
By Hamid Riaz
After almost two years of playing around with the idea, the National Assembly (NA) has finally passed the bill to ban corporal punishment in educational institutions and seminaries, on Tuesday, February 24, however it will only be for implementation in the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT).
The Bill which was tabled and spearheaded by opposition lawmaker, Mehnaz Akbar Aziz of the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N), received non-partisan support from both the opposition and treasury benches.
“The idea for passing a bill of this effect has been around for over two years now,” said Mehnaz Akbar. ‘But I am pleased that the Assembly took up the bill. I understand that this is just one step in a long struggle for the rights of children. I have already started brainstorming on the framework and Rules of Business for this bill.”
A strict ban on physical violence
The bill, titled the ICT Prohibition of Corporal Punishment, places a rigid ban on all forms of corporal punishments causing physical or mental harm to children and is applicable in all forms and types of educational institutions within the capital territory. In addition to public and private educational institutions, the bill will also apply to all Madrasshas and juvenile detention centers operating in the capital territory.
The bill defines a ‘child’ as anyone under the age of 18 and ‘corporal punishment’ as “any punishment in which physical force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort, however light it may be, which may involve hitting (smacking, slapping, spanking) a child with the hand or with an implement (a whip, stick, belt, shoe, wooden spoon, etc.”
Shireen Mazari the federal minister for Human Rights introduced an amendment to the initial draft which stipulates that an affected child can bring forth his/her complaint in front of a magistrate or a court of law.
Repealing section 89 of the PPC
Music artist Shehzad Roy who has been working on education issues notes that the most progressive element of the Bill is its repeal of section 89 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC). The section, which stipulates that a parent or a teacher can give corporal punishment to a child in “good faith” or the “benefit of the child”, has been exploited by several culprits in the past to walk away even with overwhelming evidence against them.
Months of struggle behind the bill
“Corporal punishment is such a widespread phenomenon in the country and one can’t help but think that a Bill proposed against it will easily be able to float through the parliament. Sadly, the realities of legislation in Pakistan are extremely complex,” says Mehnaz Akbar in an exclusive conversation with Voicepk.net. “Petty political interests take priority of our national interest. When I proposed the bill many lawmakers from the government initially refused to support it merely over the fact that I (an opposition lawmaker) was presenting it. People only cared about taking credit, but no one wants to put in the work,” she says.
Besides petty politics, another major factor that caused a delay in the passage of this legislation was certain interest groups belonging to some ‘Private Schools’ and ‘Religious Seminaries’. “But in the end, I am glad that we were able to reach a consensus,” explains Mehnaz.
Implementation of the bill
While the passage of any progressive legislation pertaining to core human rights and values is laudable, many of these laws suffer from a lack of implementation because the rules and procedures remain un-defined. MNA Mehnaz Aziz calls this observation valid. “A bill to this effect has already been passed by the Sindh assembly but its rules of business have not been declared for the past eight years now. For this reason, I have already started consulting with relevant stakeholders and I plan on presenting actionable proposals within the next six to eight months,” she says.
“I am well aware of the fact that the passage of this bill is the first step in a long battle for child rights,” concludes Mehnaz Aziz.