In the last week, reports of two extremely disturbing cases of child abuse have emerged.One was the viral video of a man from Bangalore physically assaulting his 10-year-old son for lying to him. The other is the case of a Class 6 student from Jhabua district of Madhya Pradesh being slapped 168 times over several days by her classmates, on their teacher’s orders. I have not watched the video of the child being beaten, but read a detailed description and saw screen grabs. The video has been shot by the mother of the child – not to incriminate the father, but on his suggestion, and essentially to further traumatise the child by playing back the video to him as a warning – and only saw light of day because she had asked a mobile repair shop owner to back up the data on her phone. The owner happened to see the video, and informed an NGO, which reported the incident to the police.
The man, who is seen throwing his child on the bed repeatedly, and kicking him so hard his head lifts off the floor from the impact, has been arrested under the Juvenile Justice Act. The mother, who is also heard in the video, saying, “No child can lie the way you do” and is an accomplice in the act, does not seem to have been arrested. The police, who are investigating the incident, say the boy has not suffered any major injuries from the beating, which occurred two months ago. He has been living with his parents all this while. No one knows how many such incidents there have been in the past or even since. No one knows the extent of mental trauma the child has undergone after such punishment.
In any other country, Social Services would have taken custody of the child and removed him from a home where his rights are being violated, and evidence of this exists. What provisions do we have in law for emancipating a child from abusive parents? And what system exists to ensure that there is minimal disruption to the rights of these children? No mechanism has been put in place which allows constant monitoring of the victim by child welfare authorities. Another incident, which occurred between January 11 and 16 at the Navodaya Vidyalaya in Thandla town of Jhabua district in Madhya Pradesh, came to light last week. A 12-year-old child was slapped twice on each cheek by 14 of her classmates every day for six days, for not completing her homework. This punishment, which has been termed “friendly” by the school’s principal K Sagar, was allegedly ordered by the science teacher Manoj Kumar Verma. A police complaint filed by the child’s father, Shivpratap Singh, says she fell ill from fear and distress and had to be hospitalised. Again, the police said “no injury” was found during the medical examination, but that they have confirmed the beating did occur. The principal justified the punishment, saying it was chosen to make the girl improve her performance, since she was “weak in studies”. It has been eight years since Rouvanjit Rawla, then 13, committed suicide after being caned by Sunirmal Chakravarthi, Principal of La Martiniere School in Calcutta. At the time, the Juvenile Justice Act had not been passed. There was no law in the Indian Penal Code to prevent corporal punishment in schools, and the education department only sent directives to the state, CBSE and ICSE boards against corporal punishment, which were to be forwarded to affiliated schools. In a report I wrote at the time, I found several incidents of corporal punishment in schools, which had resulted in children falling ill or even going blind. India is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on Rights of Child, but the laws of our country do not reflect this. There is, in fact, fair indication that those who wrote and sanctioned the laws were votaries of the “spare the rod and spoil the child” school of thought. Sections 88 and 89 of the Indian Penal Code disallow punishment for an “act done in good faith for benefit of the child”, and this has been used by several teachers to get away with corporal punishment in the past. The Juvenile Justice Act should ideally override these laws. But the fact is, a person who abuses the power he has over children, should be dismissed from his position and not be allowed to take up employment in schools in future. Instead, his principal defends him and justifies corporal punishment. In a country with such a large population, spread over such a large area, it may not be possible to monitor every child, as is possible in Scandinavia, for instance. But we must at least have laws in place to punish those who are reported for abusing children. And we must remove laws which allow them to get away with it.