Schools are temples of learning. They are vested with the responsibility of ensuring the proper and healthy growth of children. They are entrusted with the duty of providing an environment where children feel safe and fearless, and an opportunity to socialise and make friends. Education is the fundamental right of every child, and it is the responsibility of the state to provide for the development of our children. Schools put children on the path to a bright future.
But the reality is far from the expectations. Most girls and boys face physical, emotional, or sexual harassment in schools. Instead of being a good memory, school becomes a traumatic experience for some children. In India, it is widely believed that physically abusing and punishing children is an effective way to teach them a lesson when they make mistakes. Sometimes, these methods become reasons for great mental and physical suffering for children. Recently, a 13-year-old boy was beaten to death by his teacher for not completing his homework. A karate teacher was held accountable for raping and sexually assaulting girl students on the pretext of teaching them defence skills. A boy committed suicide after the principal tortured him mentally by calling him unparliamentary words in front of everyone. Sadly, these incidents are not rare. Newspapers report these kinds of cases daily, and many more go unreported. Especially in rural areas, it is a trend to punish children by beating them with sticks and rulers. These incidents impair the healthy growth of children, and most of the time, cause serious lifelong mental trauma. In India, a teenager commits suicide every 90 minutes, according to NCRB data, and a big reason for it is trauma caused by school.
United Nations Convention on the rights of the child (UN CRC)
The UN CRC is an international treaty that sets out the civil, political, economic, social, health, and cultural rights of children. It has 196 signatories. Article 28(2) imposes a duty on the state to ensure that school discipline conforms to the child’s human dignity. Article 19(1) states, “States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.” Similarly, Article 29(1)(b) emphasises a child’s development in accordance with human rights and fundamental freedoms, and Article 37(a) requires states to ensure that no child is tortured or subjected to cruel treatment.
Article 21 gives the right to life to every individual, which includes the right to live with dignity. Punishing a child either physically or mentally hampers the dignity of a child and interferes with his freedom.
Article 21A mandates the government to provide free and compulsory education to all children aged six to fourteen years. Children who are afraid of corporal punishment are more likely to avoid school or studies, and in some cases drop out entirely.
Article 39(e) makes it the state’s responsibility to ensure that children are not abused. Furthermore, Article 39(f) requires the state to provide opportunities and facilities for children to develop in a healthy manner, as well as conditions of freedom and dignity.
RIGHT TO EDUCATION ACT, 2005
In furtherance of Article 21A, the RTE Act was enacted. It recognised both physical and mental harassment as punishable offences. Article 17 says, “No child shall be subjected to physical punishment or mental harassment.” Article 17(2) provides for disciplinary actions under service rules against the person harassing the child. Articles 8 and 9 make it necessary for the state to check that no child of a weaker section or disadvantaged group is discriminated against or prevented from further education.
THE JUVENILE JUSTICE (CARE AND PROTECTION OF CHILDREN) ACT, 2015
The JJ Act criminalises an act that causes a child mental or physical suffering. Section 75 reads, “Whoever, having the actual charge of, or control over, a child, assaults, abandons, abuses, exposes, or wilfully neglects the child or causes or procures the child to be assaulted, abandoned, abused, exposed, or neglected in a manner likely to cause such child unnecessary mental or physical suffering, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years or with fine of one lakh rupees or with both”. While “having the charge” usually means a person in charge of a child care institution under the JJ Act, 2015, it also includes people who have authority over the child, such as the parents, guardian, teachers, or school staff.
Sections of the Indian Penal Code dealing with the abetment of suicide, hurt, criminal force and assault can also be used to protect children from being the victims of such offences. Sections 305, 323, 325, 326, 352, 354, 506 and 509 protect all people, including children, from physical and mental atrocities.
Another act for the protection of children, especially from being the victims of sexual offences, is the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, POCSO, 2012, which provides for strict measures against offenders. Sexual assault on a child by a teacher or school staff is recognised as “aggravated penetrative sexual assault” and bears more punishment than if committed by any other person. Section 6 provides for a minimum of 10 years of rigorous imprisonment, which may extend to imprisonment for life with a fine if the offence is committed under section 5(f), that is, by a person in the management or staff of an educational institution. Furthermore, for “aggravated sexual assault” by a person in the management or staff of an educational institute, the punishment is imprisonment for 5 years, which may be extended to 7 years with a fine.
The Ministry of Women and Child Development issues guidelines for educational institutes for the protection of children. The National Child Protection Policy prescribes that,
- Every employee in an educational institution is required to sign and abide by a non-discrimination declaration, to treat children gently without corporal punishment, and to maintain the child’s dignity.
- Members of the educational institutes are prohibited from using bad language or words that are harassive, abusive, sexually provocative, demeaning or culturally inappropriate, developing sexual or physical relationships, or abusive or exploitative behaviour with children.
- Educational institutes have to make children aware of and accessible to child helpline no. 1098.
- They are responsible for educating employees about child protection. Orientation programmes have to be organised to make teachers and staff aware of a child’s needs and the correct way to handle them.
In Hasmukh Bhai Golakdas Shah v State of Gujarat, it was observed by the court that “corporal punishment to a child in present days … is not recognised by law”. Hence, no protection can be given to the teacher or person harassing the child under Section 88 or 89 of the I.P.C. Punishments only traumatise children and in no way discipline them. It was held to be an archaic notion that to maintain discipline, a child can be punished physically by the teaching staff because of implied consent by the parent or guardian.
In Parents Forum for Meaningful Education v Union of India, the hon’ble court held that corporal punishments are violative of a child’s right to life. The Right to life includes a life of dignity protected against cruelty, physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, and exploitation, including sexual abuse.
In Kishor Guleria v The Director of Education, Directorate of Education & Ors, the court said that even minimal violence to children could degenerate into an aggravated form of abuse or harm. Teachers cannot always be mindful while punishing a child. There is no ‘reasonable’ limit to the punishment.
In S. Jai Singh and Ors. v State Rep by the Inspector of Police, where a child died after being made to duckwalk for coming late, Hon’ble Justice N Anand Venkatesh of the Madras High Court said, “even animals are protected against cruelty… Our children surely cannot be worse off than animals”.
“Child being a precious national resource is to be nurtured and attended with tenderness and care and not with cruelty.”
Every child is entitled to have a safe, happy, healthy and fear-free childhood. Education is supposed to make children grow into good citizens who can be assets to our nations, not a tool for schools to harass and traumatise children for life. In our country, physical punishment and verbal abuse are seen as the most effective ways to make children ‘good children’, but in reality, all this behaviour does is hamper the healthy development of a child. Studies show that 80% of children in public schools in Gurugram are physically punished and most of the time this is accompanied by mental abuse. The fear of punishment develops self-doubt in the minds of children, makes them hate school and studies and eventually they start to lack in academics and other spheres of life.
Despite a strong legal framework, incidences of harassment, and abuse at schools are quite common. Steps must be taken to educate parents, children and teachers about the right and healthy way to handle a child’s problem. It is important that beating, punishing, or yelling are not normalised at homes or schools. Rather, children should be allowed to enjoy the process of learning and growth while embracing their childhood.
Author(s) Name: Simran Kaur (Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies, Delhi)
 Sharat Kumar, ‘Rajasthan teacher beats student to death, tells his father he’s ‘acting dead’ (India Today, 21 October 2021) < https://www.indiatoday.in/crime/story/rajasthan-teacher-beats-student-death-father-acting-dead-1867475-2021-10-21> accessed 13 June 2022
 Soumitra Bose, ‘Nagpur: Kanhan karate teacher ‘abused’ students on pretext of training in army techniques’ (The Times of India, 12 June 2022) < https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/nagpur/karate-teacher-abused-students-on-pretext-of-training-in-army-techniques/articleshow/92135082.cms> accessed 13 June 2022
 Sharmeen Hakim, ‘Boy Hangs Himself After School Chairman Calls Him “Nalayak, Jhopadpatti-Chhap”: Bombay High Court Denies Anticipatory Bail’ (Live Law, 17 May 2022) < https://www.livelaw.in/news-updates/bombay-high-court-denies-anticipatory-bail-boy-hangs-himself-school-chairman-calls-nalayak-jhopadpatti-chhap-199350> accessed 13 June 2022
 Damayanti Datta, ‘From the archives: What’s pushing teenagers to suicide?’ (India Today, 4 April 2022) < https://www.indiatoday.in/india-today-insight/story/from-the-archives-what-s-pushing-teenagers-to-suicide-1933442-2022-04-04> accessed 14 June 2022
 The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989, Art 28(2)
 The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989, Art 19(1)
 The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989, Art 29(1)(b)
 The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989, Art 37(a)
 Constitution of India, 1950, Art 21
 Constitution of India, 1950, Art 21A
 Constitution of India, 1950, Art 39(e)
 Constitution of India, 1950, Art 39f)
 The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, Art 17
 Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, s 75
 The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, s 6
HasmukhbhaiGolakdas Shah v State of Gujarat,Criminal Appeal No798 of 1996.
Parents Forum for Meaningful Education vs Union of India and Anr, AIR 2001 Delhi 212
Kishor Guleria v The Director of Education, Directorate of Education &Ors.W.P. (C) 5765 of 2011
S. Jai Singh and Ors. v State rep by the Inspector of Police Crl.MP.No.807 of 2020
Parents Forum for Meaningful Education vs Union of India and Another, AIR 2001 Delhi 212
 Rohit E David, ‘https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/gurgaon/80-of-government-school-children-face-corporal-punishment-says-study/articleshow/68087661.cms’ (The Times of India, 21 February 2019) < https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/gurgaon/80-of-government-school-children-face-corporal-punishment-says-study/articleshow/68087661.cms> accessed 14 June 2022