Media Power and Corporal Punishment of Children: Freedom within Boundaries

Prof. Sonal Pandya*
J.S.S. Patel**

Abstract

Media is the mirror and collective face of society. This study answers two questions: Is everything visible for media? And second; Is this mirror moving? If yes, where and how? Media coverage of political and economic issues is relatively easier. However, covering social issues is complex. Highlighting social issues becomes difficult because, at times, the issues are not transparent enough for the media industry to either address or intervene. Media may not be able to identify these issues even though they may be prevalent. Corporal punishment by family is one such issue. It is observed that along with cases of corporal punishment, issues of domestic violence and female foeticide are also not highlighted by the media because this kind of crime is not always reported at the police stations. Secondly, the victims are not ready to confess this inhuman practice before the media.

As far as media coverage is concerned, in this age of channel wars, vernacular press has its own crucial role in today’s society. Many social issues get coverage in local newspapers. Hence, an analysis of portrayal of corporal punishment-related news in vernacular dailies, rather media’s parameters to select news on child rights or corporal punishment, is very important. The content analysis of newspapers reveals ‘how’ and ‘which’ issues are published. It brings out and analyzes media concern for corporal punishment. Secondly, the paper also attempts to understand the collective face of society on this issue.

This paper emphasizes the media’s role as a mass educator. When we look at issues in the larger context, we all know that media has power without authority. How is the media using this power for social change? Corporal punishment is not merely an issue of legal battle. It is related to media coverage and social awareness as well. Through this paper, we bring to light media’s perspective on the issue.

Introduction

Children are the future of the nation. They are the real resource and power of the country. In the same way, media is the power of democracy. Hence, a question arises as to how media utilizes its power for empowering children and for the advocacy of child rights. If media achieves this, media-power can be converted into the power of common citizens of India. Child rights-related issues are important and deserve media coverage.

As far as the news industry is concerned, media content is rapidly changing. The morning newspaper turns into a wrapping bag by evening. However, one cannot deny the role of media as a mirror of the society as well as a mass educator. Vernacular newspapers cover many local and social issues. Corporal punishment-related news and its coverage in newspapers is a major indicator of the role of the press in protection of human rights as well. Corporal punishment is not merely an issue of legal battle. It is related to media coverage and social awareness as well. Through this paper, we bring to light media’s perspective on the issue.

Corporal punishment is defined as any punishment in which physical force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort, however light. Mostly, it involves hitting (smacking, slapping, spanking) children, with the hand or with an implement – whip, stick, belt, shoe, wooden spoon, etc. But it can also involve, for example, kicking, shaking or throwing children, scratching, pinching, biting, pulling hair or boxing ears, forcing children to stay in uncomfortable positions, burning, scalding or forced ingestion (for example, washing children’s mouths out with soap or forcing them to swallow hot spices). Corporal punishment is invariably degrading. In addition, there are other nonphysical forms of punishment which are also cruel. These include, for example, punishment which belittles, humiliates, denigrates, scapegoats, threatens, scares or ridicules the child (The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child).

Article 19 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) requires states to take: “all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child”.

As directed by National Commission for Protection of Child Rights in August 2007 and the Human Resource Development Ministry, corporal punishment in all schools in the jurisdiction of the state government is prohibited as it “severely affects the human dignity of the child, encourages violence among them thereby reducing his/her self-esteem and self-confidence”.

A child is defined as a “human being below the age of 18 years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier” (Ministry of Women and Child Development, India).

Corporal Punishment and Media

Media relies on various sources of information to report about corporal punishment. The sources are police reports, any extreme incidents in the society, social media, hospitals, etc. These sources are limited. Corporal punishment happens outside of educational institutes too. It happens in homes, and even at public places. While cases occurring in schools and colleges are reported, other cases happening inside homes are not. For example, for couples who have marital fights, the child is used as a punching bag or a weapon against each other.

As far as addressing corporal punishment by media is concerned, unfortunately, only extreme cases like death and suicide draw attention and get reported. Only few cases are taken to courts. In such cases, the most convenient excuses given are that the child was stressed about marks, or depressed due to study load, or could not deal with peer pressure. The real cause may be entirely different. These reasons alone do not drive them to take their own life.

Media is expected to be the voice of the voiceless and to shape public opinion. Media arms civil society and government with facts to bring change. Media can play a vital role on highlighting child rights. If media performs an active role by prioritizing stories related to child abuse, it can curb corporal punishment. Media can reach classrooms easily when an event is reported at a police station or voice is raised against school management. However, media cannot reach bedrooms – the bad rooms – that are unseen, invisible and unidentifiable. Media has freedom, but only within boundaries.

Parents’ Role

Corporal punishment in India is practiced by parents directly or indirectly. At times, parents and teachers tend to discipline children on the basis of fear. Fear is an impediment to a child’s mental growth. Another method used is that of condition or temptation. This ‘give and take’ concept creates wrong ideas in child’s mind. During childhood, kids are often told to keep their mouth shut. The irony is that even when they must raise their voice against injustice, they keep mum.

Corporal punishment is illegal, immoral, and inhuman. One cannot justify the use of corporal punishment as a well-meaning tool for children in any form, with any reason.

In spite of passing several laws the problem is still not under control. Many policies and acts are also in place for child rights. Laws are an integral part of society but laws cannot change the society in all aspects of life.

To become a parent is a biological process. But bringing up a healthy child is not an easy job. One has to become a parent psychologically and socially too. Teaching ‘dont’s’ is important, but not through physical or harsh means. Sometimes, parents accept short cuts which otherwise prove to be a long path ahead.

Some parents think that as their child’s well-wisher, they can practise corporal punishment and that they are not answerable to anyone, as it is the question of ‘my child’. However, this very attitude leads to many alarming questions.

Parental education is not a formal practice in India. Media can address this gap too.  Parental watch on schools’ daily functioning can ensure that the atmosphere in schools does not provoke anxieties in children. Authorities must also enforce the same on defaulting teachers.

Focus of the Study

This study focuses on corporal punishment perpetrated on helpless children not only in schools, but also in homes and by the people they come across in daily life, for example, neighbours, or strangers at public places. In this study, sexual violence against children faced in such circumstances is included as a form of corporal punishment, under the operational definition of the term. The research asks: does media reach to and help in controlling ‘Indoor Violence’ against children (domestic corporal punishment)?

Objectives

  1. To study the portrayal of child abuse in vernacular dailies.
  2. Many issues of child abuse are related with corporal punishment. Hence, to find out which issues are getting coverage in the press and how much coverage they are getting.
  3. To understand media’s perception on corporal punishment.

Literature Review

News stories on child rights, human rights, women’s rights, and corporal punishment were studied. Reports on these subjects brought out by government and non-government organizations were referred. Laws, acts, guidelines and stipulations of various legal agencies and educational bodies were noted. Research articles were also studied. The supplements of newspapers were studied. They carry sections for children on some days of the week. The content includes inspiring stories for kids, pictures, puzzles, etc. But, these do not carry information on child rights or corporal punishment. Supplements can publish content on child rights to create awareness.

Methodology

A thorough page-to-page content analysis of more than 800 newspapers and their supplements from January to July 2014 has been done. The newspapers selected are in Gujarati language, namely, Gujarat Samachar, Sandesh, Divya Bhaskar and Navgujarat Samay. These are the most-read newspapers in Gujarat. The analysis gives an overall purview of corporal punishment in India as reported by the newspapers.

Results

1. Corporal punishment observed in different age groups:

Years 0-3 4-6 7-15 16-18 Stories where age not  menttioned Total
No. of cases reported in media 5 10 16 16 40 87

It is observed that in news stories that did not mention age, the description of the content implied that most children are in age group of 7-18 years. Children below 7 years are voiceless. One cannot come to the conclusion that corporal punishment between 0 to 7 years of age prevails less in society. Such children are too young to speak out. Their voice does not come out of the class room, bedroom or drawing room.

2. Corporal punishment and gender – Victims:

Gender Male Female Total
No. of cases reported in media 37 61 98

The reported crime against girl child is almost double than male child. Female child is still the soft target for corporal punishment.

(There are some stories in newspapers about both male and female, ie the story talks about punishment to children in general, hence the total number exceeds the figure mentioned in the table above.)

3. Corporal punishment and gender – Perpetrators:

Gender Male Female Authority Arbitrary (where in case of suicide by victim is not known) Total
No. of cases reported in media 45 7 21 10 83

Crime by men is far more in proportion to punishment inflicted on children by women and authorities put together.

4. Corporal punishment and social strata:

Social strata Rural Urban Total
No. of cases reported in media 10 80 90

This figure can be a skewed data because it is a fact that corporal punishment is rampant in schools in villages as well as in government and municipal schools. Since, cases happening in villages are not reported at police stations, these are not reported in media. Media is not able to cross boundaries into village-homes.

5. Corporal punishment in schools vs homes vs other situations/places:

Location Schools College Tuition Homes Suicide at home Vicinity Public places Suicide outside home Total
No. of cases reported in media 14 2 7 25 4 14 13 8 87

As per this data, schools, homes and vicinity which are internal or official places see more cases of corporal punishment than public or external places. To ban corporal punishment, one has to start working at internal places first.

The findings reveal that domestic corporal punishment is as grave a problem in Indian society as much as corporal punishment inflicted on schools. Indoor violence is dangerous for child’s normal growth. Media is unable to go behind closed doors of homes, unless such cases are registered as complaints in police stations or brought out in public.

Even neighbouring and public places are not safe. Children are not safe anywhere if left alone. This only establishes the important role parents must play to raise kids in safe and sound environment inside and outside homes, and also how parents should be well-informed and aware about children’s vulnerability as well as their rights.

6. Corporal punishment and sexual violence – on females:

Crime Rape Rapes and killed Molestation All other forms of harassment Total
No. of cases reported in media 11 2 16 32 61

As per 6 months’ analysis of vernacular dailies, the news reported in the press, once in every three days, a girl child is raped, molested, killed or harassed. Adult women are not included in this study; otherwise the number would have been higher. This is a stark reality. Women are ill-treated even if they are babies or girls, in schools or in homes.

7. Corporal punishment and sexual violence – on males:

Crime Rape Molestation All other forms of harassment Total
No. of cases reported in media 0 1 36 (includes two boys killed by their parents) 37

It is noteworthy that a complaint was registered regarding sexual harassment on a male boy by another male, and a vernacular newspaper reported the same.

8. Types of corporal punishment – apart from sexual violence:

Type of corporal punishment reported in newspapers No. of cases reported on such type of corporal punishment %
Beating, Slapping 0 0
Bending, touching toes 1 2.78
Dismissing from school, hostel 1 2.78
Not permitted to take exams 2 5.55
Withholding marks cards 1 2.78
Drinking own urine 1 2.78
Humiliating verbally 2 5.55
Blackmail, threatening 6 16.67
Making students do manual work 2 5.55
Students told by school to take psychiatric tests 1 2.78
Killing own child 5 13.89
Telling police to arrest own child 1 2.78
Kidnapping family-child for extracting money 1 2.78
Suicides 12 33.33
Total 36 100

Could the above data possibly mean that beating and slapping are not even considered an offence? In one case, the school principal forced a boy to drink his own urine. The most shocking number is that of suicides. Reasons of suicides are not disclosed in most news reports. Was the intensity of corporal punishment so harsh, that it forced students to kill themselves?

The dictionary definition of corporal punishment has taken new meanings in today’s times. Heinous crimes are committed on children, like the ones mentioned above. There is a dire need to make adults and children aware that they should strongly oppose the wrongs and injustice in the society.

9. Comparison of news coverage of corporal punishment in different newspapers in six months:

Newspaper Gujarat Samachar Divya Bhasker Sandesh Navgujarat Samay Total
No. of cases reported in media 21 22 36 10 89
Divided by six months: This paper is analysed for 4 months
Average no. of stories reported per moth 3.5 3.6 6 2.4

The above findings show that on an average four stories are reported in one newspaper each in a month. This can be termed as very poor reporting because national data shows that thousands of children are ill-treated daily in some way or the other in India. Sometimes, parents do not want to report corporal punishment on their children because of fear of humiliation among fellow-parents. Sometimes, teachers make them believe that the child is at fault. Most times, teachers and parents think that corporal punishment is a part of school-life and that’s how children are disciplined and raised. Corporal punishment is somewhat accepted as a part of growing up without even realizing its ill-effects. These attitudes need to change. Researchers found during literature review that most child domestic workers and most children of beggars are victims of domestic corporal punishment.

10. Ratio of news on corporal punishment vs news on child rights:

Newspaper Gujarat Samachar Divya Bhasker Sandesh Navgujarat Samay Total
No. of stories on Child rights 6 4 1 1 12
No. of Stories on Corporal Punishment 15 18 35 9 97

Coverage of child’s rights is far more dismal than that of corporal punishment. It is a pity that children’s rights are ignored to such a large extent in a country whose population largely comprises of children and youth.

Analysis

The data analysis reveals that very less coverage is given to child rights in media in general and to corporal punishment in particular. There are no direct ways or means for children to get information about corporal punishment. All forms of media — be it electronic, print, online, social or radio — do not talk about corporal punishment as much as they should. Hence, awareness among children is less or even negligible. The content generated by the media for students does not even mention corporal punishment. The question emerges – is media utilizing its power to effect change for the betterment of children?

A question also arises: who will protect children, if they are not protected in schools and in families? Police, courts and NGOs can protect them only to a limited extent. A change in attitude towards children’s rights is possible only through parents’ and society’s awareness.

The analysis found that none of the newspapers reported incidents of female foeticide in the six months of study. There is no record of the verbal corporal punishment inflicted on children in their homes and outside. It is a general fact that verbal abuse is more frequent than physical corporal punishment.

Discussion

It is a pity that in spite of acts and rules in place, corporal punishment occurs in schools in urban areas, and rampantly in rural areas, where innocent children and girls from deprived families become helpless victims. Given their age, children are hapless to a large extent. Corporal punishment is detrimental to child’s well being.

In Indian society, family is the strongest institution. There is an invisible wall that demarcates everything inside and outside this wall. Surpassing this wall is impossible for children. This tradition is ingrained in children. Media cannot cross this boundary. It can report only what the family allows it to.

Also there are social boundaries. Media does not starkly question social taboos. In India, one cannot imagine a teenager complaining against his/her parents at a police station, which happens in certain other countries.

Media operates with limitations. It is a freedom within boundaries. Media has power without authority, yet it cannot utilize this power to openly bring out familial and societal issues.

Media, especially vernacular press and television, can play an influential role. Vernacular press normally covers local issues that happen on a daily basis. Media, along with NGOs or other agencies can create a communication network that encourages victims to report incidents without fear. By regular reporting of cases, media can create social pressure on educational organizations, and also on law-executing bodies. Round the year, news organizations work on social initiatives. Banning corporal punishment should be their agenda, as part of their social responsibility.

There is past evidence that when media reports on addressing and curbing physical and mental abuse on children, it has paved the way for a series of discussions, debates, talks and opinion polls on televisions and social media to ban violence against children and punish the perpetrators of crime.

Media strongly condemns this practice and it is evident in the strong words it uses while reporting the cases. However, the condemnation has to have more vigour and effect. There are gaps in reporting. There are rarely any follow-up stories. Time is ripe for media to cross the invisible boundaries and intervene at some level in innovative ways or through creative platforms to reach out to children. There is no dedicated spokesperson to address corporal punishment on media platforms. Victims, for legal reasons, cannot come out and speak about it. For ethics, perpetrators’ faces and deeds are not always highlighted in news. There is acute lack of awareness on the subject. Most children never hear of the term corporal punishment until they turn into adults. Nobody is ever going to stop media from doing something for children. Media can and should not only cross but break these invisible walls to protect children.

Study Limitations and Future Scope

The sample size is confined to vernacular dailies in Gujarati. The scope of the study can be extended to include the English language press and electronic media.

References

Bibliography

Annexure

  • Page-wise Content analysis of four Gujarati newspapers (Ahmedabad edition): January to June 2014

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