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Physical violence in Lebanon's schools 'amounts to rights abuse': HRW Open in fullscreen

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Physical violence in Lebanon's schools 'amounts to rights abuse': HRW

Syrian refugees and vulnerable children are the most at risk of abuse [Getty]

Date of publication: 10 May, 2019

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Lebanon's schools are using shocking levels of corporal punishment in the name of 'discipline' against vulnerable children without being held accountable, a new HRW report revealed.

Physical and psychological abuse of young children, including beatings and verbal abuse, is rampant in Lebanon’s school system, according to a new report published by Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Monday.

The report, entitled 'I don’t want my child to be beaten', collates findings from interviews with 51 children across the country, as well as parents, teachers, and education campaigners. HRW’s researchers say the widespread nature of the abuse in the name of "discipline", and the lack of accountability for the perpetrators amounts to human rights abuse.

Despite the beating of children being outlawed in the 1970s, the practice is widespread and its long-term effects are poorly understood.

A 2011 survey found that 76 percent of the 1,177 school children interviewed said they had been subject to physical abuse by teachers or administrators in schools. Most worryingly, the highest rates of abuse were among younger children from socially vulnerable backgrounds.

“Corporal punishment was banned decades ago in Lebanon’s schools, but children still have to choose between suffering abuse or missing out on an education,” said Bill Van Esveld, senior children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“Adults are beating children in Lebanon’s schools, and that urgently needs to change.”

The report reveals that common forms of punishment include humiliation, insults, and slapping or striking with the hand. Some children are subject to even more severe abuse, including beatings with sticks, rubber hoses, and electrical cables.

Even when the teacher was reported, the school refused to help the cancer-stricken child, saying he should be put in an institution for children with disabilities

One of the most chilling cases highlighted by the report is that of a young boy receiving treatment for leukemia, who had been beaten, called a “donkey” and forced to stand outside in the cold as punishment for falling behind in class due to the side effects of his medicine.

Even when the teacher was reported, the school refused to help the cancer-stricken child, saying he should be put in an institution for children with disabilities.

“I was trying so hard to keep him emotionally strong, and not upset, because that’s the most important thing when you have cancer. And he’d come home upset every single day. He hated going to school,” the boy’s mother told HRW’s researchers.

Read more: Syrians fled for a reason. Now their safe return is at stake

The psychological effects of such violence against vulnerable children runs deep, a fact that 40 percent of Lebanese pediatricians are unaware of, according to the report.

A separate Lebanese study from 2018 found corporal punishment can predispose children to “aggression, delinquency and conjugal violence later in life,” as well as antisocial behavior, anxiety disorders, and problems into adulthood such as depression and suicidal tendencies.

Due to their precarious status in the country, refugee families are often too scared to complain about the violence

A further long-term effect of physical abuse is its destructive impact on children dropping out of school, according to the report. Parents will also pull their children out of school “due to the pain, fear, humiliation, and risk of further harm from corporal punishment,” the report read.

Abuse in schools is even more widespread among Syrian refugee children – of which there are around 210,000 in the public school system. Due to their precarious status in the country, refugee families are often too scared to complain about the violence, fearing they may be reported to the police and their residency revoked. Some who had reported the violence had been threatened by school staff.

Read more: Lebanon's 'treatment over prosecution' drug rehab programme struggles against societal stigmas

The report cites one case where the abuse of Syrian children in a village school had got so appalling, the whole village pulled their kids out of class and refused to send them back until the school’s director promised to put an end to the abuse, while included beating children and refusing to let them go to the bathroom.

The report calls on the Lebanese government to prioritise the enforcement of the ban on corporal punishment, including taking steps such as improving complaint procedures, publishing information on complaints received and their result, implementing penalties for abuse, and ensuring all teachers are adequately trained.

“Teachers need proper training in how to discipline children without using violence, and students need a system that gives them their right to an education free from fear,” Van Esveld said.

“With common-sense reforms, Lebanon could finally end corporal punishment in schools.”


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