A ban on cruelty towards children, including inhuman and humiliating physical and mental punishment, must be ensured by amending Section 9 of the Children Act 2013 and such activities must be considered punishable offences
Ayesha Akhter, senior advocacy officer, BLAST
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Chairman of the parliamentary standing committee of the social welfare ministry, Rashed Khan Menon, said if the concerned persons agreed to bring about changes in the Children Act 2013 in order to protect children from physical and mental abuse, it would not take much time to pass the amendment in parliament. And more important than any law to stop punishment of children, is the need to change people's mindsets.

Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Nasima Begum, said there were teachers in many educational institutions who even chopped off children's hair as a punishment. This was extremely humiliating to a child. An environment conducive to the physical and mental growth of children is essential. A teacher's love, affection and care play a significant role in a child's development.

Nasima Begum and Rashed Khan Menon both joined the roundtable online.

Veteran teachers' leader and convener of the coalition against physical and mental abuse of children, Kazi Faruque Ahmed, called for a united social movement to protect children from punishment. He said, in various countries alternatives to punishing children are being devised. A child can be won over through praise and kind words. A teacher's appointment letter must include the clause that students will not be punished.

Manager of the social welfare directorate's child helpline 1098 Chowdhury Md Mohaimen said 147,000 calls were made to this helpline this year. He said, many children open up and speak out about the problems they face. The counsellor tries to understand what afflicts the child. Parents and teachers, everyone must understand the issue of children's rights. They must behave responsibly.

If the law had provision for punishment, then the teachers, parents and everyone would be aware of what action they would face if they mistreated children
Rezaul Karim, legal advisor, BLAST

Presenting the keynote, senior advocacy officer of BLAST, Ayesha Akhter, said that a ban on cruelty towards children, including inhuman and humiliating physical and mental punishment, must be ensured by amending Section 9 of the Children Act 2013 and such activities must be considered punishable offences.

It was proposed that using the hand or anything else to hit a child, throwing a chalk or duster at the child, pinching or biting, pulling the hair or placing a pencil between two fingers and pressing them together, be considered light punishment, while kicking, throwing a blunt or sharp instrument, caning, cutting hair, making insulting remarks concerning the child's parents or race or religion or colour, be considered grievous physical or mental punishment, for which a persons should be given up till three months' imprisonment and a fine of Tk 25,000 to Tk 30,000.

BLAST's legal advisor Rezaul Karim said the Child Act 2013 did not clearly specify what action would be taken against persons involved in the physical and mental abuse of a child. If the law had provision for punishment, then the teachers, parents and everyone would be aware of what action they would face if they mistreated children.

In the opening remarks, Prothom Alo associate editor Abdul Quayum said despite orders of the High Court, children were subject to physical and mental torture in many educational institutions. This was in no way acceptable.

Quoting the national survey of 2018, associate professor of the National Institute of Mental Health and President of Bangladesh Association for Child Adolescent Mental Health, Ahmed Helal, said 18 per cent of adults and 13 per cent of children suffered from mental disease. In the case of children and adolescents, 5 per cent of the diseases were from birth, while 8 per cent suffered due to the environment, the educational institutions, families, and so on. Children victims of mental abuse came to the physicians. Mental pressure hampered children's moral development.

Executive director of Aparajeyo Bangladesh, Wahida Banu, said area-wise initiative was required to protect children from punishment. There is a tendency in society to take children's punishment very casually. A normal environment for children to grow will never be created unless physical and mental abuse is stopped.

Chairperson of Dhaka University's department of communication disorders, Tauhida Jahan, said 90 per cent of the children were subject to abuse by means of negative words. Specially-abled children required extra care. A happy childhood was essential for a child's development.

There was a tendency in society not to see abuse as a crime, when it was passed off as disciplining a child, observed Supreme Court lawyer Arafat Hossain Khan.

The roundtable was moderated by Prothom Alo assistant editor Firoz Choudhury.

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