By: Asha Bajpai
The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 (JJ Act), deals with two categories of children — those in need of care and protection, and children in conflict with the law. Now, the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children ) Bill, 2014 (JJ Bill), has been approved by the cabinet to replace the JJ Act. The bill introduces special provisions to improve child rights and incorporate international obligations in the legal framework. Corporal punishment and ragging have been made specific offences. Both corporal punishment and ragging at the school level legitimise the abuse of power, and violate dignity and privacy. It may teach the child that violence, aggression and abuse of authority is the way to make people behave the way you want, and thus prepares the ground for ragging at the college level or later.
Children are subject to corporal punishment in institutions meant to care for and protect them, such as schools, hostels, orphanages, juvenile homes and even families. Currently, a number of legal provisions under the Indian Penal Code can be used to prosecute someone who inflicts corporal punishment on a child at a school or a custodial institution. These include abetment of suicide committed by a child, voluntarily causing hurt or grievous hurt, causing hurt by dangerous weapons. But Sections 88 and 89 of the IPC provide immunity to a person inflicting corporal punishment on a child if such punishment is “in good faith for the child’s benefit”. This defence is incompatible with the Constitution and with India’s obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which protects children from torture and cruel treatment. So, Section 88 needs to be amended and Section 89 needs to be repealed.
Section 23 of the JJ Act criminalises an act that may cause a child mental or physical suffering, making it punishable with imprisonment for a term that may extend to six months, or a fine, or both. This provision does not clearly use the words “corporal punishment”, but it has been interpreted as cruelty to children. But many parents would prefer not to go through lengthy criminal procedures. Another factor that deters parents is the danger that school authorities will victimise the child. The Right to Education (RTE) Act explicitly prohibits physical punishment and mental harassment in schools, of children aged between 6 and 14. This provision is not being implemented. Neither are the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights’ guidelines on setting up corporal punishment cells.
It is now globally recognised that punishment in school, in any form, hinders a child’s development. All educational institutions are custodians of children during the continued…