Stop Corporal Punishment Against Children, Human Rights Watch Warns
MENA region has some of the highest rates globally of violence against youth for misbehavior
Human Rights Watch on Monday called on countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region to stop using violence to discipline children.
“The region has some of the world’s worst rates of violent punishment of children – 90% of children or more were subject to physical or verbal abuse each month,” the NGO said in introducing an index categorizing countries in the region based on their laws and policies.
“It was not a complete surprise, but it is disturbing to see proof of what we have feared,” Ahmed Benchemsi, Middle East and North Africa communications and advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, told The Media Line.
“There is no justification for corporal punishment. For years, research has shown that not only does it not improve behavior, but it makes it worse,” Benchemsi said, adding that this type of disciplinary measure is associated with depression, suicide, domestic violence and leaving school prematurely.
Juliette Touma, chief of communications at UNICEF (the United Nations Childrens’ Fund) Middle East and North Africa, agrees.
“According to UNICEF, nearly 80% of children across the Middle East and North Africa are subjected to violent discipline in their homes. It is urgent to step up efforts to stop a practice which, even in mild forms, affects children’s physical and moral health,” she told The Media Line. “Raising and educating children should always be constructive and be based on respect. Violence is unacceptable in any way, shape or form.”
HRW has introduced a ranking system: red, yellow and green, with green signifying best, for how countries currently fare legislatively when it comes to using violence as a penalty for bad behavior.
Tunisia and Israel, the only two countries in the region to outlaw the practice, are ranked green.
Algeria, Bahrain, Libya, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are “yellow,” with either no legislation to back up school policies to prevent corporal punishment or with laws that are largely ignored.
Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Morocco, Oman and Yemen are ranked the worst, with red. In Egypt, for example, no law bans corporal punishment of children, and in Iraq “the penal code exempts ‘discipline’ of children from penalty.”
However, the index’s classification of countries based on their laws does not always equate with lower rates of violence against children.
While Tunisia is ranked green, corporal punishment is pervasive, with 93.2% of children enduring violent discipline at home at least once a month between 2005 and 2012.
Egypt and Morocco are also in the 90% range for children experiencing corporal punishment at least once a month from parents or caregivers. In the former, a government-sponsored survey found two of every three Egyptian children had been struck at school with “sticks, belts, canes or whips.”
Qatar, similarly, is ranked yellow but, at 50% for children ages 2 to 14, had the lowest incident rate in the region, according to a 2019 report by UNICEF using 2012 data from 12 countries. Qatar does not have laws that explicitly criminalize violent punishment of children.
Raising and educating children should always be constructive and be based on respect. Violence is unacceptable in any way, shape or form
While Israel is ranked green, violent consequences for children as a result of poor behavior are more widespread in ultra-Orthodox and Israeli Arab schools, where the law is not always enforced.
In the Palestinian territories, HRW cites an earlier UNICEF report stating that as many as 66% of students in first through 10th grades had been “exposed” to violence in school.
HRW says that to combat violent punishment of children, governments in the region should pass laws banning the behavior, which should then be properly enforced.
UNICEF also calls for online platforms to stop “glorifying” corporal punishment.
“We often see violent content widely available and shared on social media networks,” Touma said. “UNICEF calls on all social media networks to promote child rearing practices that are constructive and respectful of children and their rights.”