In a historic move for Pakistan, the National Assembly passed on Tuesday, a bill banning all forms of corporal punishment in Islamabad — recognising its vile consequences against children's fundamental rights to dignity, protection, development and survival.
According to the law which will now be making its way to the Senate, teachers and guardians will be penalised for hurt inflicted upon children, "however light," regardless of intention or whether the administered violence was "in good faith" or “for the benefit” of the child.
Musician and humanitarian Shehzad Roy, who has been at the forefront of advocating against the abuse of children and campaigning to get the practice banned since his educational TV show in 2013, spoke about why the issue was so important.
"When we were in school, there was a pitai [beating] culture," he tells Images. "I would not like to take any names, but all of us have gotten beaten up at one point or another.
"It was after I became the goodwill ambassador for United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and held a concert at the Karachi Central Jail that I spoke to children there. Most of them said we didn’t get beaten up, because they considered only bloody head injuries, or vicious punches forms of violence."
According to the singer, when children are inflicted with physical punishments, society is telling them — and an entire generation — that violence is a valid means of resolving a problem.
"When a child is born, he is beaten up by his parents. When he goes to schools or madressahs to receive education, he is beaten up by the teachers and then eventually mercilessly by the police. He witnesses that if anything needs to be fixed, violence is considered the only solution, the only way. This is why I cannot stress on this enough — protect your children. Teach them, don’t severely punish them," he says.
Roy, who in recent weeks urged key lawmakers including National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser to urgently hear the bill, was overjoyed at the development.
"It's my best gift to the children in Pakistan," he tells me, with a kind of contentment in his voice that feels surreal.
When asked about how he feels the law would be implemented in Pakistan, he was hopeful that a promising future lies ahead.
"A visible change since 2012 that I have been noticing is that previously if an adult beat up a child, people would make videos. Those videos would be circulated, shared on social media and the culprit would be caught. However, they would eventually release him in ‘good faith'. But now, there is no releasing those culprits who are inflicting violence," he says.
He also reiterated how passing the bill was not the ultimate solution to the plethora of problems stemming from corporal punishment. Reform, he says, is always an unfinished business.
“Child protection units and social welfare departments need to be equally strengthened,” he pointed out, adding that the tougher fight is to incorporate skill-based education in our curriculums.
The Laga Reh singer leads by example and has already taken the first step. Through Durbeen, a non-profit organisation established with the long-term goal of improving public schools in the country, he is looking forward to improving the education system and laying foundations for a safer, more kinder Pakistan.
“Always remember that safe sex education and educating your child on sexual abuse are two different things," he says. "Nowhere in Pakistan does a child know that no doctor should be evaluating his body without the presence of a guardian. No book teaches you that. These are the sensitivities that children need to be made aware of."
Thus, while he looks at the bill as a positive advancement, he feels there is still a lot left to do.
Mass awareness campaigns that sensitise educators and caretakers to the harms of corporal punishment and educate them about healthy alternatives like positive disciplining, lie at the core of those priorities.
“All interventions need to be made on a national level. There are still too many issues that need to be fixed," he sighs.