Middle East schools struggle to stamp out physical punishment

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Physical abuse of students leads to increased rates of depression, aggression and emotional disorders, researchers say. (AFP)
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Bans on corporal punishment in schools are expected to have a positive influence on a new generation of schoolchildren. (AFP)
Updated 22 June 2019

Middle East schools struggle to stamp out physical punishment

  • Physical punishment is widespread in Lebanon, according to a Human Rights Watch report
  • In the Gulf countries, governments are working to crack down on corporal punishment in schools

DUBAI: Beatings and violent physical punishments persist in many Middle East schools despite international laws banning abuse of children and widespread concern about the effects of corporal punishment.
Physical abuse is a grim reality in schools in the region, according to recent studies by Human Rights Watch (HRW) and UNICEF, which highlight Lebanon as a country of key concern.
The use of corporal punishment is one of the leading factors behind Lebanon’s rising school dropout rate, the HRW report said.
Bill Van Esveld, senior researcher for children’s rights at HRW, told Arab News that reports suggest that up to 76 percent of schoolchildren in Lebanon have been physically abused by teachers.
Beatings involved being whipped with an electric cable, or struck with rulers or classroom objects, and often resulted in broken bones.
Other punishments included “slapping the face or back of the neck or head, twisting ears, pulling hair, hitting the hands with a ruler, being shoved into walls or desks, or being beaten with objects to hand such as a book, electrical cable and a propane-tank hose.”
Van Esveld said: “The injuries can be severe. We met one child who had suffered a deep cut on his hand that bled for days. Another boy’s nose was broken. One boy, aged just six, said his ‘Miss’ hit the children in his class regularly and painfully, and that he did not like going to school and felt afraid in his classroom.”
Corporal punishment and verbal abuse at school “mean that adults are inflicting pain and fear on children,” he said.
“No scientific study has ever demonstrated a long-term benefit of corporal punishment. But myriad studies find that corporal punishment causes both short and long-term harm, from heightened dropout rates and lower educational achievement to increased incidences of emotional disorders such as depression, aggression and even suicidal ideation.”
Dadu Shin, author of the watchdog’s report — “I Don’t Want My Child to Be Beaten: Corporal Punishment in Lebanon’s Schools” — said: “In documented cases, children avoided or dropped out of school, or their parents pulled them out of school due to the pain, fear, humiliation and risk of further harm from corporal punishment.
“Surveys show that corporal punishment is one of the leading factors behind school dropouts in Lebanon,” he said.
Lebanon’s Education Ministry has prohibited all forms of corporal punishment in public schools since 1974. In 2001, the ministry issued a detailed circular to both public and private school staff banning corporal punishment as well as verbal abuse.
Yet due to a lack of enforcement, surveys have found that widespread abuse persists.


● Any physical act that causes a child pain or discomfort — hitting with a hand or any object, kicking, shaking or pulling their hair — is recognized as corporal punishment.

● Schools are required by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to protect children from ‘all forms of physical or mental violence.’

● UN bodies say that non-physical punishments that belittle, humiliate, denigrate, scare or ridicule a child are also cruel and degrading.

Van Esveld said teachers hit and humiliate children for a host of reasons, including the knock-on effects of the Syrian war and consequent overcrowding in Lebanon’s classrooms. Since the conflict in Syria began in 2011, enrolment in Lebanon’s public schools has doubled, with roughly 210,000 Lebanese and 210,000 Syrian students in primary and secondary schools in 2018.
“The ministry warned in 2014 that overstretched, undertrained teachers were also increasingly likely to resort to corporal punishment in light of the influx of Syrian refugee children into the public school system,” Shin said.
Elsewhere across the region, governments are working to crack down on corporal punishment.
In the UAE, physical punishment in state schools was banned in 1998, while in Saudi Arabia the Ministry of Education has told schools to ban hitting and beating students.
In 2017, the Kingdom also announced it was launching a campaign called No Hit Zone, which aimed to show parents alternative methods of disciplining a child, and called for similar projects in the region.
However, in many schools, the old adage “spare the rod, spoil the child” continues to play a part in the classroom.
Van Esveld said there is a lack of data about the prevalence of corporal punishment in other Middle East and North African (MENA) countries, but HRW is beginning research into the problem.
“News reports from different MENA countries indicate it is a serious problem; children have reportedly died due to corporal punishment at school in Egypt, for example,” he told Arab News.
“A forthcoming World Bank report indicates that the prevalence in Lebanon is worse than the global average.”
UNICEF has also highlighted widespread corporal punishment, both in the classroom and in the home, in its latest report, “Violent Discipline in the MENA Region.” Of 85 million children (aged between two and 14) in the region, 71 million are estimated to have experienced some form of violent discipline.
Nisrine Tawile, a child protection program specialist at UNICEF, told Arab News that the organization is launching a study on the causes of violence in schools, with the results expected by mid-2020. The study will be carried out in partnership with Lebanon’s Ministry of Education and Higher Education, and Save the Children.
“Violence against children can have an important long-term impact. When children feel safe, without worry and threat, they are calm and focused, they learn better, they grow up as stronger and active contributing members of society,” said Tawile.
“Violence can cause harm to the physical health and emotional well-being of a child. Harm can include physical injuries, but can also negatively affect the self-esteem of children, depression, school dropouts ... sexual violence can lead to unwanted pregnancies, STIs and HIV.”
HRW and UNICEF hope to see the tide turning in Lebanon.
In May 2018, the country’s Education Ministry launched a comprehensive child protection policy, which Tawile described as “a very important step.”
Van Esveld said that more accountability and transparency around complaints of corporal punishment are needed. He hoped the ministry’s new policy banning all corporal punishment will have a positive influence on a new generation of schoolchildren.
“This is the point where policy can make a big difference. The ministry should give regular updates about how many teachers it has sanctioned, what those sanctions were, and whether it referred any to law enforcement,” he said.

End the political deadlock, support group tells Beirut

Updated 26 November 2020

End the political deadlock, support group tells Beirut

  • UN leads calls for “urgent action” to halt downward spiral  
  • The ISG called on Hassan Diab’s caretaker government to “fully implement its immediate responsibilities”

BEIRUT: The International Support Group for Lebanon (ISG) has voiced its dismay over delays in the formation of a government in the crisis-racked country and called on Lebanese authorities to implement urgent reforms.
In a statement on Wednesday directed at Lebanon’s leaders, the group warned that as the political stalemate in the country drags on, “the social and economic crisis is getting worse.”
The ISG called on Hassan Diab’s caretaker government to “fully implement its immediate responsibilities,” adding that the “overriding need is for Lebanon’s political leaders to agree to form a government with the capacity and will to implement necessary reforms without further delay.”
Pragmatic legislative steps are needed to alleviate the “economic stress faced by Lebanese families and businesses,” it said.
The ISG was launched in 2013, and includes the UN, along with China, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Britain and the US, the EU and the Arab League.
In its statement, the group welcomed France’s plan to hold an international conference in support of the Lebanese people by the early December. The forum will be co-chaired by the UN.
However, the summit “did not detract from the urgent need for government formation and reforms,” it said.
On Wednesday, Reuters quoted “an official source” who claimed that Lebanon’s central bank is considering reducing the level of mandatory foreign exchange reserves in order to continue supporting basic imports next year, with the already low reserves dwindling.
According to the source, Riad Salameh, the central bank governor, met with ministers in the caretaker government on Tuesday to discuss cutting the mandatory reserve ratio from 15 percent to 12 percent or even 10 percent. Foreign exchange reserves are currently about $17.9 billion, leaving only $800 million to support imports of fuel, wheat and medicine until the end of the year.
Meanwhile, Lebanese political leaders are seeking to shift blame for the parliamentary deadlock in a dispute illustrated by the exchange of accusatory letters between Nabih Berri’s parliamentary bloc and President Michel Aoun.
Walid Jumblatt, leader of the Progressive Socialist Party, tweeted on Wednesday: “We are in a vicious circle under the slogan of conditions, counter-conditions, names and counter-names, electoral and presidential bids, and flimsy regional bets, amid a tremendous change in the region.”
At a meeting of the joint parliamentary committees on Wednesday to discuss a draft law for the parliamentary elections, representatives of the Free Patriotic Movement and the Lebanese Forces party voiced their objections, claiming the project presented by the Berri parliamentary bloc “fuels the political, sectarian and doctrinal divide because it is based on the idea that Lebanon is one electoral constituency.”
Lebanese Forces MP George Adwan said that “what is being discussed today is a change in the political system, not just an electoral law.”
The Lebanese Parliament is due to hold a plenary session on Friday to discuss a letter sent by Aoun “to enable the state to conduct a forensic accounting audit of the Bank of Lebanon’s accounts.”
Alvarez & Marsal, which was carrying out a forensic audit of the central bank’s accounts, said last week it was halting the investigation because it was not being given the information needed to carry out the task.
The company’s decision came after the central bank invoked a banking secrecy law to prevent disclosure of information.
Aoun had insisted on the forensic audit “so that Lebanon is not seen as a rogue or failed state in the eyes of the international community.”
Families of the victims of the Aug. 4 Beirut port explosion staging a sit-in near the parliament building demanded “a decree equating our martyrs with the martyrs of the army.”
Bereaved mothers, some carrying pictures of children killed in the blast, accused former and current heads of state of being responsible for the explosion.
Mohammed Choucair, head of the Lebanese Economic Organizations, said that Lebanese authorities “are dealing with this devastating event as if it were a normal accident.”
He said that “the only way to save Lebanon and rebuild Beirut is to form a capable and productive government that responds to the aspirations of the citizens.”