A recent report “Choking Childhood: School Corporal Punishment – Everyday Violence Faced by Disadvantaged Children in India”, by NGO Agrasar, highlights how Gurugram’s disadvantaged children experience corporal punishment in schools. Based on quantitative and qualitative research in semi-urban communities in Gurugram, the researchers collect data from 29 children participating in a role play, a survey among 521 children and 100 parents, personal interviews with 26 children, previously transcribed interviews with 14 children, three focus group discussion and one seasonal calendar exercise with 29 parents in total, and informal group interview with 12 teachers from two different government schools. The children in our interview sample are between 7 and 14 years old.
School corporal punishment as a form of violence against children should be a matter of huge concern for every community, however deprived or affluent, and for our society at large. 80% of the children said they are being punished by teachers. However, the responses in interview sample suggest that this number might be as high as 100%. The large majority of parents does not only approve of corporal punishment but also uses it at home. 71% of children said they are beaten up at home.
An average of 43% of children is beaten regularly, up to three times per week, by their teachers, but the number varies greatly between schools. In some schools, 88% of students are beaten regularly, while in others “only” 30%. Children are told by their teachers and parents that corporal punishment with “a good reason” is necessary. Most children, however, do not like it, and more than half of them want the beating to stop completely.
Children find themselves trapped in an abusive environment with little chance of escape. Some evidence suggests that older children are less likely to experience school corporal punishment, compared to younger children. However, when looking at disadvantaged children we find little difference between ages. The frequency and severity of punishment are similar, only the forms are different. Gender does not seem to be a major risk factor to experience corporal punishment.
There are gender-specific forms of punishment and girls experience sexist verbal abuse and humiliating forms of punishment. Boys in upper primary schools receive more physical punishment than girls. 80 to 100% of disadvantaged children in government schools are punished by teachers, and for many it is a daily routine. They see or receive it every day, even several times, compared to a nationwide average of “only” around 50%.
In some schools, 88% of students are beaten regularly, up to three times a week, while in others “only” around 30%. Many teachers mete out corporal punishment on their students in ritualised forms, but some teachers subject children to brutal and cruel forms of violence. There are also teachers who never use corporal punishment. Disadvantaged children experience both “mild” and severe forms of physical punishment as well as verbal harassment referring to their “bad upbringing.”
Younger children and boys are more prone to physical abuse, while older students and girls tend to receive more verbal harassment by their teachers. Almost all parents (91%) approve of school corporal punishment and 74% admitted that they also use it at home. The large majority of parents (70% ) punish their children when they find out that their children got punished at school.
The forms, however, can vary across ages. Some children indicated that younger students are more subjected to physical punishment, while older students tend to be more verbally harassed. Regardless of the form, all students are subjected to corporal punishment to similar extent, almost on a daily basis.
Marginalised children, in particular from low-income and “migrant” background, suffer more from school corporal punishment than others. Due to the shame associated with punishment, many children said that they are never punished by their teachers, but “the other kids” were. For many, physical punishment, accompanied by mental harassment, are a daily routine. One child even described the frequency of physical punishment as “at least two times a day minimum.”
The students indicated that a typical day at school would be a mix of fun and fear, while they are sure to receive individual or collective beatings during particular periods. Though all the children said that they do not enjoy corporal punishment, they have all become accepting of it as their school routine. Thus, children from marginalised communities do not only experience corporal punishment across all ages, but also in extremely higher frequency.
The children we interviewed experience physical punishment in different ways. The forms that are described by the children as “least painful” and “not so serious” include making the students stand in class for the whole period, sometimes with their hands raised, pulling their ears or hair, doing sit-ups, making them stand outside and also slapping them in the face. While slapping is typically perceived as an act of utter disrespect and therefore as a very serious act of violence, the children experience it so often that many of them said they like certain teachers because they “only slap.”
Other forms of punishment include not allowing the children to use the bathroom, even if the student asks multiple times, or pinching them in the abdomen. From here it goes on to more painful forms such as hitting the knuckles with a duster or scale, and caning the children on their calves, both of which are very hurtful to children as those body parts are sensitive. Teachers also punish children by threatening to expel them from school or embarrassing them in front of the class, which, according to the children, has a strong and lasting impact on them.
For not completing homework or any sort of “disobedience” they are beaten with the hand on their heads or backs or caned on their palms and buttocks. Hereby the severity of the punishment depends on how strongly they are hit by the hand or the cane.
Other forms of punishment are stress positions like murga (chicken), caning female students on their thighs, and make children bend like a four-footed animal and cane them on the body. Caning, beating and slapping appear to be the most common forms of physical punishment and many schools keep in each classroom a dedicated stick to beat children.
The children also described brutal and cruel forms of corporal punishment, which they witness or experience not every day, but with some regularity. Some teachers violently beat their students with plywood, bang their heads against the wall, and punch them in the face resulting in head or ear injury and bleeding. Another teacher locks up a children in an insulated room to beat them, while he turns on loud music on his phone so that nobody can hear the children screaming.
Not only are children subjected to severe forms of violence, it is also accompanied by psychological torture. For example, several children gave account of a teacher who does not just bang his students’ heads against the wall, but turns it into a “game” where he pretends three or four times before he eventually strikes the child’s head against the classroom wall. In another instance a girl child who had a fractured leg was chased through the classroom by her teacher, who then grabbed the girl’s hair and hit her.
The children also told us about a teacher who tears apart their books and throws the pieces into the dirt outside the classroom. While this does not seem a harsh punishment at first sight, we should keep in mind that the loss of a textbook or notebook puts children from low-income background into immense distress. Not only do they face humiliation in front of their classmates, but also fear punishment by their parents for incurring additional expenses for new books.
Mental abuse is even more frequent. The children, however, are unaware that abusive and derogatory comments, insults and racist slurs constitute a form of corporal punishment. Like most people they equate punishment only with beating. Disadvantaged children experience mental abuse mainly in reference to their low socio-economic status. Teachers use “Bihari” or “Bengali” as a disparaging term for all students who are not locals, and call them “donkey”, “good for nothing”, “uneducated”, “illiterate” and that they had “a bad upbringing.” Some children indicated that such verbal abuse particularly affects older students.
Download full report HERE