September 1, 2007

We’re not bringing up our children with confidence

Mumbai Mirror
Saturday, September 01, 2007

When Magsaysay awardee Shantha Sinha was appointed chairperson of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, she said she wanted everyone to be indignant about the general state of child abuse. Now, with so many instances of violence against children, Sinha says merely penalising individuals in isolated incidents is not the answer. Mumbai Mirror correspondent Lakshmi talks to her about solutions...

Schoolchildren are increasingly being abused by their teachers — be it allegedly forcing students into prostitution or beating up a student for not doing her homework. What do you have to say about this?
The Delhi incident was shocking. What was uncovered was a single incident, it might not necessarily be the solitary instance. In the Bangalore case, seven teachers had beaten the child. It is not enough to pin blame or responsibility on a few individuals. It is far more generic. It is the pervasiveness of violence and abuse of children that we have in our system.

Has your commission taken cognisance of these incidents?
We can only recommend remedial measures. We are not implementing agencies. More importantly, the state governments must take necessary steps.

Why are children, particularly those who go to school, the subject of so much abuse?
From the beginning, we have taught our children to be obedient and submissive. We are not bringing them up with confidence. We have not given them the courage to say ‘no’. Instinctively, children discriminate between good touch and bad touch. They can also distinguish a good gaze from an evil one.

But still children cannot resist violence...
Children are usually silent because they are not sure if the world of adults is going to listen to them. That is why in our seven-point charter, we have suggested that schools put up a complaint box where a child can drop anonymous complaints about corporal punishment.

In early August, your circular about launching an awareness campaign against violence by teachers had even included verbal abuse...
Any hurtful utterance should be seen as an affront to the child’s dignity. We cannot have gradations of insults. Adults must recognise this. We must not ask children to bear with small insults and tackle only the big ones. We should not wait till there is a physical assault on the child. Hurtful words are as serious an offence as a slap. As for implementation of the circular, the education department of all states have two months to implement the charter.

You have expertise in working with underprivileged children, as your forte has been movement against child labour. While dealing with issues of violence on school children, don't find yourself tackling middle-class issues?
Violence against children cuts across class. It is not just the school-going children from the middle class who face the brunt of teachers. First generation learners from poor families face a tougher time in school. For them, it is traumatic even to go to school as they get taunted for getting the wrong note book.

What about the parental duty of disciplining a child?
Punishment is different from discipline. You can mentor a child without punishing him or her.

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