Humiliation and face slaps are not the only abusive tactics used in the name of discipline by school teachers against students in Lebanon. According to a report recently published by Human Rights Watch (HRW), corporal punishment by school staff in Lebanon include beatings with sticks, rubber hoses, and electrical cables, and cases in which so-called “discipline” spiralled into serious assault and harm.
The report, entitled: “I Don’t Want My Child to Be Beaten” Corporal Punishment in Lebanon’s Schools, documented 51 cases of abuse taking place in both public and private schools across Lebanon.
These cases have led to the conclusion that the Education Ministry’s ban on corporal punishment has failed to provide proper protection for students, who are constant victims of a multitude of appalling abusive practices.
Despite the ban, many perpetrators go without being held accountable.
Bullying and Beatings with Electric Cables
The 59-page report recorded a case whereby one teacher hit a boy in the face with a book, knocking out two teeth, after he asked to use the bathroom. Another boy said his teacher whipped his hand with an electrical cable, causing a deep wound that was “bleeding for a few days”.
Three other stories have added to the horrific plethora of evidence which calls on the Education Ministry to take swift action.
One of the cases spoke of a 10-year-old boy who was grabbed by the nose and yanked upwards, twice. When he returned home, his face covered in blood, his mother was left shocked.
In November 2018, a teacher and a school director at a public school in the North Governorate beat a Lebanese girl whom the teacher accused of using a calculator to solve a maths problem.
Perhaps one of the most heart-breaking stories mentioned by the report is that of 12-year-old Fadi, a young boy who was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of 5.
Fadi’s mother, Rasha, told HRW that her son was receiving proper medical treatment while attending a private pre-school in the Baalbek-Hermel governorate. His teachers there were well aware that his treatment was weighing heavily on Fadi’s ability to focus.
But, as Rasha’s life became increasingly difficult, it forced her family to move and enrol Fadi in a public school where a teacher “called him a donkey and pulled his hair in front of the other students”.
With the medication slowing down his focus and limiting his attention span, Fadi became the target of harassment [by his teachers] for not doing well in school. Rasha said she complained to the school director “four or five times,” and also argued with the director as to whether Fadi would advance to the next grade, but without success.
“The director said, ‘We can’t treat him any better than the other students,’ and also pulled his hair at least twice.”
When Rasha’s complaints went unanswered, she succeeded in finding help through social media. She was able to eventually find a private school offering scholarships to low-income families, and thereafter transfered Fadi to a place where he was guaranteed appropriate treatment.
Lebanon’s Penal Code on Corporal Punishment Is Ambiguous
The HRW report features surveys that showcased the extent that violent corporal punishment is exercised in Lebanese schools.
According to Child Protection Officer, Mira Faddoul, who works at the non-governmental organisation, Kafa, the worsening of child abuse across schools can be traced to a lack of clear legislation that can hold a corporal punishment offender accountable.
Speaking to 7Dnews, Faddoul explained that until 2014, Lebanon’s penal code explicitly exempted teachers from liability for inflicting “culturally accepted” levels of physical pain on children in the name of discipline.
Parliament amended the law and removed the exemption a month after a video went viral of a teacher beating boys on the feet with a stick over them failing a test.
Even though the law was amended it still, as reported by Faddoul, does not explicitly criminalises corporal punishment in schools.
“More so, the revised law still expressly permits parents to hit their children,” she added.
Speaking on the measures the government took to curb the fallout from child abuse in schools, Faddoul said, “The Education Ministry established a hotline for complaints about violence in schools, and a mechanism for NGOs to refer cases of violence in schools to the ministry’s headquarters in 2015.”
The ministry of education has periodically issued circulars prohibiting verbal abuse and corporal punishment since a 2001 ministerial directive.
“The law in Lebanon generally prohibits abuse, which by default involves students being harmed by a member of school staff harming the student, but the law excludes cases of interference within the limits of cultural discipline,” legal consultant and human rights activist Samer Hamdan told 7Dnews and explained that the plaintiff is entitled to file a criminal complaint against the offender.
In a nutshell, the law forbids abuse but permits what is “socially perceived as disciplinary action”.
Syrian Refugee Children More Susceptible to Abuse in Lebanese School
The HRW report revealed that children of Syrian refugees are more vulnerable to reprisals. A number of cases were documented in which Syrian children tell stories of being the victims of violence at schools. They are easy targets for nationality-inspired reprisals and insults by Lebanese school workers.
Not only were Syrian children the subject of physical abuse, some teachers have gone as far as not allowing them to use restrooms.
According to Kafa’s Faddoul, social prejudices in Lebanon have formed a wrong image for the Syrian refugee, a notion that has festered into racial hatred.
She pointed out that the most prominent misconception about Syrians is that they are stealing jobs from the Lebanese.
Pro-regime Syrian refugees face social tensions in Lebanon because they are seen as historic enemies, given Syria’s occupation of Lebanon during the 70s. As for anti-regime refugees, they are treated as though they were Isis terrorists.
Although the refugee may file a complaint to the Education Ministry in the event of their child being subjected to violence, they often do not do so because they are poorly informed about their rights, even if they hold the status of an asylum seeker.
Faddoul also predicts that some Syrian refugees, especially who are illegal, refrain from reporting abuse because they are afraid of getting arrested.