Though the school education department is still unsure about the provisions laid down in the Right to Education (RTE) Act against physical harm or abuse in schools, the state’s child policy has taken a strong stand on corporal punishment in schools. The draft of the policy, which has been released by the state for suggestions, speaks of banning the practice in all schools.
The RTE Act has a provision that warns of ‘disciplinary action’ against those who subject the child to ‘physical or mental harassment’; the state school department, however, says that it is unsure about what constitutes such disciplinary action. The Maharashtra Child Policy has been drafted by a committee appointed by the state, headed by the Women and Child Development Minister Professor Varsha Gaikwad. In the past year, the committee has been working on a child policy, and the Maharashtra Commission for Child Rights recently released the draft, inviting suggestions and objections to the same.
In the section that deals with the child’s right to development, the draft says that corporal punishment shall be banned in all schools. The draft speaks of a mechanism to prevent and address corporal punishment and other discriminatory practices in schools. It also adds: ‘No nicotine and other addictive substances shall be distributed or sold to children under any circumstances in any location’.
The draft categorises that those in the age group 0 to 18 fall in the category of children. This definition is based on the United Nations Convention for the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). The state will consider this group as a benchmark for all matters concerning children, from marriage, driving to liquour and consent.
The draft lays down that children in this age group will be offered protection from the state from all forms of physical, sexual, mental, emotional, spiritual, economical and social abuse and exploitation. The state also wants to ensure free and compulsory education to all children upto the age of 16, with all work done by children till they reach this age being considered hazardous. At present, the state’s Act against child labour protects children in the age group of 0 to 14.
The draft also says that the state will define detailed conditions about the employment of children between 16 and 18 years of age, to prevent their exploitation and abuse.