Quite often, Bilal Javed, 10, stands opposite the school he once attended and peers past the gates. An able pupil, who excelled at mathematics during his five years in school, Bilal misses lessons. But he has not been to school for four months and says he is "too scared" to venture through the entrance again.
Bilal's father, Asad Javed, 33, explained: "My son was good at his work and we were eager he gain an education. But one day he was beaten so badly by his science teacher, who hit him with a shoe, that he came home badly bruised and in great pain”.
“I had to give him a painkilling tablet so he could sleep," said Asad, who works as a cleaner.
The boy was punished for talking in class. He has, since then, refused to return and his parents say they are helpless.
"We want him to be educated, but we don't want him to be beaten up," said Bilal’s father, who himself went to school for only three years.
According to the Islamabad-based Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC), a local non-governmental organisation (NGO) advocating the rights of children, 35,000 high school pupils in Pakistan drop out of the education system each year due to corporal punishment.
School dropout rate
Such beatings at schools are also responsible for one of the highest dropout rates in the world, which stands at 50 percent during the first five years of education, according to SPARC.
Qindeel Shujaat, executive director of SPARC, told a seminar on corporal punishment in Islamabad a few weeks ago: This "culturally accepted form of child abuse" also contributed to the high dropout rate among children and the fact that 70,000 street children were present in the country.
Yet, despite growing awareness regarding the issue, many schoolteachers remain convinced that some degree of corporal punishment is necessary to instruct children.
"The teacher needs to ensure obedience and ensure children receive proper guidance. For this, an occasional light beating or other physical admonishment is necessary," Ghulam Asghar, 40, who teaches at a boy's private school in Lahore, told IRIN.
The government of the North West Frontier Province banned corporal punishment in primary schools in 1999. A year later, the governments of Balochistan and Punjab issued directives to all teachers not to use corporal punishment on children, and followed up with disciplinary action against three teachers. The Sindh government also issued similar orders in 2007.
But the fact is that, despite a campaign at government level and awareness-raising efforts by NGOs, the directives remain poorly implemented.
Most children at schools across the country, both girls and boys, are beaten. "The law, as it exists now, permits parents or guardians, including teachers, to beat a child in “good intent”, Rashid Aziz, national manager of SPARC’s legal department, told IRIN. He explained that this prevented police from acting on complaints of physical abuse.
"It is also a matter of attitude. Teachers we talk to say they need to beat children to teach them," he added. SPARC is currently running several projects aimed at educating teachers and pupils about child rights.
Photo: Kamila Hyat/IRIN
|Waqar, 9, repeatedly runs away from home because he fears beatings from teachers if he is sent to school|
In 2005, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) with Save the Children and the Pakistan government, conducted the first in-depth survey to determine how many children were subjected to corporal punishment.
All 3,582 children interviewed said they had been beaten at school. Seven percent said they had suffered serious injury as a consequence.
In January this year, Muddassar Aslam, 14, a pupil at a government school, died at a hospital in the southern city of Hyderabad, after having three operations for abdominal injuries.
According to his parents, he had been beaten by a teacher with a stick for failing to do his homework and then forced to perform 100 sit-ups.
Other cases of horrendous injuries inflicted by teachers administering corporal punishment had emerged previously as well, and SPARC’s Rashid Aziz said: "The reports of such cases come in regularly."
It is widely believed the situation is even worse at the hundreds of unregulated seminary schools, or `madrasas’, scattered across Pakistan.
In its report for 2007, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said that in March, 24 children, held against their will at a `madrasa’ in the southern Punjab district of Muzzafargarh, had been rescued by police after one boy escaped and made a complaint. Some of the children reportedly had been tortured, others sodomised.
The Pakistan Paediatric Association found last year that over 88 percent of school-going children surveyed in Karachi reported suffering physical abuse.
Experts believe inadequate teacher training, the lack of legislation banning corporal punishment and the perception that it must be used to teach children, are all factors behind the widespread existence of corporal punishment.