How Public Interest Litigation can Change the Culture around Corporal Punishment in Schools

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Themorningbellbd.com, June 3: Corporal Punishment is a pervasive practice in the education system of Bangladesh. From January to June 2010, 14 incidents of caning, beating, chaining and suicides at schools were reported in the press. The problem is present in all educational streams including madrasas, primary and secondary schools, with children aged 6-14 being primarily affected.

Due to the lack of preventive measures, investigations and prosecutions, on 18 July 2010, Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST) and Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK) filed a writ petition before the High Court, and obtained an order on 13 January 2011 which stated that a failure to prevent, prosecute and punish corporal punishment will result in a violation of the right to life and the right to freedom from cruel and degrading punishment. The order directions included instructions to the respondents – the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Home Affairs – to investigate the 14 incidents mentioned previously. The High Court order directed that steps be taken to treat corporal punishment as a form of misconduct for which teachers would face disciplinary action. It proposed that relevant terms be included in the service contracts of teachers of private educational institutions, and observed that the disciplinary laws for teachers in government run schools be  (Government Servants (Discipline and Appeal) Rules, 1985) be amended accordingly.

While the case was still pending, the Ministry of Education issued Government Circular regarding Corporal Punishment in Educational Institutions in August 2010 banning corporal punishment in all educational institutions, and declared that Corporal punishment shall be considered to constitute a misconduct. The Circular set out duties to Education Officers in the District and Upazilla level, Heads of educational institutions, School Management Committees (SMCs) and Inspectors of concerned offices, departments and Boards of Education under the Ministry of Education to end the practice of corporal punishment and monitor such incidents in their respective areas.

Soon after in April 2011, the Ministry of Education issued its final Guidelines on Prohibiting Physical and Psychological Punishment in All Educational Institutions defining corporal punishment and identifying functions of members of management committees, teachers and employees of educational institutions and called for the prosecution of any academic professional who engages in corporal punishment of students in violation of the law.

Since then, the Law Commission has recommended amendments and repeals of various acts which continue to allow the imposition of corporal punishment. Moreover, departmental proceedings have been initiated in 14 cases and inquiry reports have been provided in some of those cases. At a roundtable meeting between BLAST and the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education on 20 December 2015, the discussion to repeal existing laws allowing corporal punishment was reiterated. Such laws include provisions from the Whipping Act 1990, the Railway Act 1890, the Cantonments Pure Food Act, 1966, the Prison Act, 1884 and the Borstal Schools Act 1928.

Recommendations were put forward to the Minister, who pledged to look into them.

The Hon’ble Minister also announced an initiative to convene a regular stakeholder consultation from the government’s side to monitor progress in this area and for taking forward action to address corporal punishment. To determine progress on BLAST’s recommendations to the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education, a meeting was held on 2 May 2016 where it was decided that:

  • Department of Primary Education was to ensure that posters and banners raising awareness were displayed in educational institutions.
  • Disciplinary actions must be taken against teachers imposing corporal punishment and field officers should conduct investigations on whether corporal punishment has been inflicted and make recommendations in reports accordingly.
  • In the best school selection criteria, prohibition of corporal punishment must be incorporated and terms disallowing corporal punishment must be incorporated into the service contracts of teachers.
  • Monthly coordination meetings with the Deputy Director and District Primary Officers should be held to ensure compliance

In addition to this, BLAST has also participated in extensive legislative advocacy including meetings with Parliamentary Standing Committees, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the Law Commission and other relevant Ministries. Steps have been taken to ensure public awareness through sessions with parents, caregivers, community leaders, and stakeholders by NGOs. There have been district level activities, formation of local volunteer groups and media advocacy with local journalists. BLAST has also instigated a program of individual follow-up where incidents of corporal punishment have been reported, and provided mediation, litigation and support services to affected clients.

Research, policy changes and legislative advocacy have also been conducted, with surveys conducted by the Informatics and Development (IID) to identify various forms of violence faced by children. Advocacy by BLAST with SMCs, parents/teachers, NGOs, and child rights experts have addressed gaps in the lack of uniform policies at schools.

Further implementation can be ensured if legal action is made part of a multi-sectoral approach. Media campaigns, monitoring individual cases, providing medical and social support for victims, lobbying with government and members of the Parliament for legal reform and coordinated action by NGOs must also play a role in changing the culture around corporal punishment.

With this aim, on 4 June 2016, Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST), Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA), and Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association (BNWLA), with support from the Community Legal Services (CLS) Programme of DFID, have organised a National Access to Justice Conference on Implementation of Public Interest Litigation. The Conference will address the challenges and opportunities involved with the implementation of PIL judgments, disseminating information amongst a broad range of stakeholders with a view to advancing access to justice through effective implementation. For more information on the Conference, please visit www.blast.org.bd.

(Authors: Shyama Talukdar, a student at University of Toronto, currently based at Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST)

Nawmi Naz Chowdhury is the CRPD Project Coordinator at Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST)

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