Physical beatings still a daily reality for Afghan schoolchildren

Screen grab of video showing an Afghan teacher beating a schoolchild with prayer beads
Screen grab of video showing an Afghan teacher beating a schoolchild with prayer beads

A video showing an Afghan child getting beaten at school has given the issue much-needed attention after it began circulating on social media networks. Corporal punishment is officially forbidden in schools in Afghanistan, but the law is rarely enforced, and our Observer says that physical beatings are still a daily reality for schoolchildren across the country.

Although the video is short, it clearly shows a teacher beating a student with prayer beads. The child can be heard crying and yelling for it to stop. Our Observers say the incident was filmed in a school in Kotal Kheyr Khane, a suburb of the capital Kabul. Despite the efforts of activists who went so far as to reveal the teacher’s identity, Afghan officials have yet to react to the video.

Although corporal punishment has officially been banned in Afghanistan, children are still physically beaten in classrooms. The Afghan government ratified the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) back in 1994. But it declared its “right to express (…) reservations on all provisions of the Convention that are incompatible with the laws of Islamic Shari’a and the local legislation in effect.” The practice was also expressly forbidden under article 39 of the 2008 Education Act. But the Global Initiative to End Corporal Punishment, a London-based NGO, claims that in the same year, research showed that corporal punishment was still being used against boys in 100 percent of the classes observed. For girls, the figure was 20 percent.

In a country ravaged by decades of war, tyranny and misrule, children are the most vulnerable people in Afghan society. According to a survey carried out by the United Nations, 51 percent of Afghan children who go to school end up having to work at the same time. Out of a population of 31 million, A staggering 300,000 youths are addicted to drugs, while another 20 percent never get the opportunity to receive a basic education.

"For most Afghan families, corporal punishment is completely normal"

Shafigh Shargh is a professor at Kabul University. His work has involved studying learning techniques in place across Afghanistan.

Afghanistan’s education system is completely outdated. It’s been 14 years since the Taliban were removed from power, and since then millions of dollars have been spent on overhauling the country’s broken education system. But despite that, progress has been painstakingly slow because reforms are notoriously difficult to achieve.

We don’t have enough educated teachers. Most teachers in Afghan schools are high-school graduates. This old generation of teachers has sworn by outdated teaching methods and has never received proper training. We can’t just get rid of them, and even if we could, we wouldn’t have enough new teachers to replace them.

Low salaries are also a problem. A teacher can expect to earn on average 65 euros per month. Most of them are obliged to do odd jobs on the side.

For most Afghan families, corporal punishment is completely normal and is expected to be part of a child’s upbringing. I saw for myself a schoolchild’s mother tell a teacher that she would be satisfied to see her child come back home with broken hands. Of course, she was exaggerating, but it goes to show how deeply corporal punishment is ingrained in the Afghan psyche. Many people think that a child who isn’t physically punished won’t end up being raised properly.

According to the Ministry of Education, any kind of corporal punishment is forbidden. But no one really pays attention. In the rare cases that parents have ended up suing teachers for beating their children, the teachers were never reprimanded. The cases always end up being resolved through mediation, and the ‘guilty teacher’ gets away with nothing more than a slap on the wrist. But at the same time, we mustn’t forget that violence is also carried out against teachers too. We’ve seen many cases where teachers have been attacked and beaten by their students.

We need time in order to bring the issue to the attention of society. Looking ahead, we need to use the media to convey to the Afghan public the severity of the problem, whilst also insisting on the fact that corporal punishment is forbidden. Both the teachers and students need to know that it’s unacceptable.