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The law about protecting children against corporal punishment

Published: 4th Aug, 2022


Three private school teachers in Pune have been booked under the Juvenile Justice Act over allegedly thrashing three Class 10 students, and threatening to grade them poorly in internal assessments.


What is Corporal Punishment?

  • By definition, corporal punishment means punishment that is physical in nature.
  • Currently, there is no statutory definition of corporal punishment of children in Indian law. Thus, the definition of corporal punishment can at best only be indicative.
  • The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009 prohibits ‘physical punishment’ and ‘mental harassment’ under Section 17(1) and makes it a punishable offense under Section 17(2).
  • In keeping with the provisions of the RTE Act, 2009, corporal punishment could be classified as physical punishment, mental harassment, and discrimination.
  1. Physical punishment is understood as any action that causes pain, hurt/injury, and discomfort to a child, however light.
  2. Mental harassment is understood as any non-physical treatment that is detrimental to the academic and psychological well-being of a child.
  3. Discrimination is understood as prejudiced views and behavior towards any child because of her/his caste/gender, occupation or region, non-payment of fees, etc.

UN Definition: The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child defines corporal punishment as follows:

  • The Committee defines “corporal” or “physical” punishment as any punishment in which physical force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort, however light.
  • These include, for example, a punishment that belittles, humiliates, denigrates, scapegoats threaten, scares, or ridicules the child.
  • This definition is a useful benchmark because it emphasizes the various physical forms that corporal punishment might take, and establishes that this full spectrum of physical punishment – even acts that many consider ‘mild’ constitute corporal punishment. There is no threshold below which physical force against a child is acceptable.

Corporal Punishment in Schools:

  • Corporal punishment is a discipline method in which a supervising adult deliberately inflicts pain upon a child in response to a child's unacceptable behavior and/or inappropriate language.
    • The immediate aims of such punishment are usually to halt the offense, prevent its recurrence, and set an example for others.
    • The purported long-term goal is to change the child's behavior and to make it more consistent with the adult's expectations.

What are the likely impacts of Corporal punishment on children?

  • Behavioral problems: Corporal punishment increases children’s behavioral problems over time and has no positive outcomes.
  • Violation of children’s Rights: Corporal punishment is a violation of children’s rights to respect for physical integrity and human dignity, health, development, education, and freedom from torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.
  • Risk of Escalation: Studies suggest that parents who used corporal punishment are at heightened risk of perpetrating severe maltreatment.
  • Corporal punishment is linked to a range of negative outcomes for children across countries and cultures, including physical and mental ill-health, impaired cognitive and socio-emotional development, poor educational outcomes, increased aggression, and perpetration of violence.
  • Risk of Criminal Behaviour: Corporal punishment signals to the child that a way to settle interpersonal conflicts is to use physical force and inflict pain. Such children may in turn resort to such behavior themselves.
  • Damaged Relationship: They may also fail to develop trusting, secure relationships with adults and fail to evolve the necessary skills to settle disputes or wield authority in less violent ways.
  • Lowering of Cognitive abilities: Impaired cognitive and socio-emotional development, specifically emotion regulation and conflict solving skills.

Provisions under the law against such punishment:

In theory, corporal punishment is covered by all the provisions under Indian law that punishes perpetrators of physical harm.

  • Section 17 of the Right to Education Act, 2009, imposes an absolute bar on corporal punishment.
  • Section 75 of the Juvenile Justice Act prescribes punishment for cruelty to children.
    • Violation would invite punishment of rigorous imprisonment of up to five years and a fine of up to Rs.5 lakh.
    • If the child is physically incapacitated or develops a mental illness or is rendered mentally unfit to perform regular tasks or has a risk to life or limb, then imprisonment may extend up to ten years.
  • Section 23 of the JJ Act, 2000: It applies to personnel in childcare institutions regulated by the JJ Act; it arguably applies to cruelty by anyone in a position of authority over a child, which would include parents, guardians, teachers, and employers.
  • Section 323 of IPC: pertaining to voluntarily causing hurt.
  • Section 325 of IPC: is about voluntarily causing grievous hurt.

What do NCPCR guidelines say about eliminating corporal punishment?

  • The NCPCR guidelines for eliminating corporal punishment against children require every school to develop a mechanism and frame clear-cut protocols to address the grievances of students.
  • Drop boxes are to be placed where the aggrieved person may drop his complaint and anonymity is to be maintained to protect privacy.
  • Every school has to constitute a ‘Corporal Punishment Monitoring Cell’ consisting of two teachers, two parents, one doctor, and one lawyer (nominated by DLSA).

Who is entrusted with the responsibility to ensure children are protected?

  • Under Section 31 of the RTE Act, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) and the State Commissions for Protection of Child Rights (SCPCRs) have been entrusted with the task of monitoring children’s right to education.
  • The state governments under their RTE rules have also notified block/district level grievance redressal agencies under the RTE Act.

WHO Response:

  • World Health Organization (WHO) also advocates for increased international support for and investment in these evidence-based prevention and response efforts.
  • The Global status report on preventing violence against children 2020 tracks countries' progress toward the SDGs aimed at ending violence against children.
  • It is jointly published by WHO, UNICEF, UNESCO, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Violence against Children, and the Global Partnership to End Violence against Children.

Ethics of Corporal Punishment:

  • Ethicists have traditionally distinguished between three purposes of punishment: retribution, correction, and deterrence.
  • Retribution is regarded as the most fundamental. This is because punishment is chiefly a matter of justice: it is about giving a wrongdoer what he or she has come to deserve. Retribution, then, seeks to balance the scales of morality by inflicting deserved harm upon a wrongdoer.
  • Correction and deterrence, although desirable, are not essential to this goal. Indeed, both of these functions must presuppose retributive justice, for we cannot punish someone for the sake of correction or deterrence unless they first deserve it.
  • The idea that corporal punishment to children is unjustified because it leads to diminished future outcomes in children is a puzzling one. Comparing children to hardened criminals is an inappropriate analogy.
  • Corporal punishment irrespective of whom inflicted upon is hateful. The implicit assumption that punishment is justified by its effects on improving life outcomes can be easily challenged.


Corporal punishment and the associated harms are preventable through multispectral and multifaceted approaches, including law reform, changing harmful norms around child rearing and punishment, parent and caregiver support, and school-based programming. Ultimately, punishment is a matter of justice, not correction, rehabilitation, or deterrence. The time has come to re-examine the saying 'spare the rod and spoil the child'.


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