Human Rights Day is observed on December 10 every year. It is the day when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adapted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. The document is made available therewith in more than 500 languages and is the most translated document in the world. ‘Recover better – stand up for human rights’ is the theme for the Human Rights Day 2020. This year’s Human Rights Day theme relates to the COVID-19 pandemic and focuses on the need to build back better by ensuring Human Rights are central to recovery efforts. The day reminds us of the importance of freedom, justice, and peace in the life of human beings. It gives a great opportunity for human engagement and to spread awareness about the importance of human rights in our communities.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a milestone document in the history of human rights. Fundamental human rights are universal, inalienable, individual, inter-dependence, inter-related, equal, non-discriminatory, and participatory. Human rights are moral principles and ethical norms. Human rights are the basic rights and freedoms that are inherent to each individual regardless of gender, age, caste, race, religion, nationality, ethnicity, language, and others. These rights each person; man or woman, boy or girl, infant or elder, simply entitled as he or she is a human being. These are the basic rights that allow individuals to live with dignity, freedom, equality, justice, and peace. These rights protect individuals from exploitation, deprivation, and abuse.
As per the UN official site, ‘under UN Human Rights’ generic call to action “stand up for human rights”, we aim to engage the general public, our partners, and the UN family to booster transformative action and showcase practical and inspirational examples that can contribute to recovering better and fostering more resilient and just societies.’ According to the United Nations, human rights ‘ensure that a human being will be able to fully develop and use human qualities such as intelligence, talent, conscience, and satisfy his or her spiritual and other needs’. However, it has been noted that India has yet to ensure the rights of students. The 86th Constitutional Amendment (2002) made education a fundamental right of the child up to the age of 14 years, and thereby, ensuring every child of the country is provided free and compulsory education by the State. This is in keeping with the spirit of Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), which recommends free and compulsory education for everyone in the elementary and fundamental stages.
Students are the inalienable resources for a country. They are tomorrow’s leaders and nation-builders. Inculcating knowledge and skills among students hence, become inevitable and utmost responsibility of academic stakeholders. Students have a right to learn new things and also develop their learning style that is different from others. Students should be given opportunities to expand their knowledge and understanding. They should be exposed to different scholastic and co-scholastic activities including project works, assignments, classroom participation, participation in quizzes, games, and sports to foster the holistic development of individuals. Besides, they should also be provided with opportunities to grow up scientific temperament, logical thinking, cognitive abilities, and interpersonal skills.
Right to Education Act 2009 has conferred students the right to access elementary education with no charge and it is the state to provide free education to children of 14 years of age. However, India is still struggling to ensure all children free and making it compulsory for children. According to the 2011 Census, India has a literacy of 74.04 percent while about 26 percent of the populations are illiterate who cannot read and write with understanding. Millions of children are deprived of education due to the chronic economic crisis at home. Poverty and lack of education exposure are responsible for the deprivation of these kids from learning. Besides, it was also found that in remote villages of Central and North-Eastern Regions of India, there is acute shortage of physical facilities including required modern ICT-based teaching-learning resources. In many places, students even have to walk more than 10 kilometers to reach schools.
Furthermore, besides the Right to Education 2009, ensuring free and compulsory education, students also have the right to access quality education. Since independence India has improved in literacy however, regarding the quality education, the country has yet to meet the requirements. The attainment of quality school education is still a far dream. According to the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER, 2018), about 49.7 percent from class V and 27.2 percent from class VIII cannot read class II level textbooks. Also, about 72.2 percent from class V and 56 percent from class VIII cannot do a simple mathematical division.
The United Nations Convention on the Right of the Children (1992) ensures children the right to life, right to health, and right to nutrition. The flagship program like Mid-Day Meal is implemented in India to avail minimum nutrition supplement to school-going kids. However, it was reported that due to corruption and mismanagement, the distribution is not regular and equally accessible to every school especially to those schools located in the remote or rural village areas. Besides, the meal availed to children is not up to the mark in terms of quality. In 2019, it was reported that children become ill and admitted to hospital after having mid-day meal in schools in Maharashtra, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Assam, and so on. Further, regarding the health and hygiene conditions of schools, it was found that many schools in rural locales have only single classroom. Many schools of them have no toilet facility. The living condition of schools is very poor and not fit to foster young kids.
Students’ safety is another concern and every student has the right to be in a secure environment. Physical punishment, negligence, conflicts, physical fights, and bullying are commonly surfaced in educational institutions across the country. Administrators and responsible stakeholders or committees must ensure the act on these issues to foster an educative learning environment in schools. They should empower children with scientific temperament and ethics. For students, who are suffering from psychological stress and depression, academic stakeholders being the key players must organize counseling and training sessions so that students themselves can tackle these issues.
No physical punishment or detention has been granted to students under the age of 14 years in India. Schools can detain students during lunch break hours if they neglect classwork. However, schools cannot detain students after school hours even if they neglect classwork. Notwithstanding, there have been several cases reported in places like Bihar, MP, UP, and other parts of the country where students are physically punished when they failed to complete the given assignment or not able to do study-related works like reading, calculation, and presentation, etc.
Corporal punishment is a violation of human rights in schools. The accused teachers can be booked under certain sections of the Child Rights Act 2005 and the Right to Education Act, 2009. They can also be accused under section 323 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for voluntarily causing hurt and section 23 of the Child Protection Act 2010. In 2014, a case was filed against a teacher who repeatedly beaten a 13-years-old boy with a steel ruler in St. Francis School in Nashik. In 2012, the Ministry of Women and Child Development has proposed imprisonment of up to seven years for teachers indulging in corporal punishment in schools.
Educational institutions must secure every individual’s privacy. Accessing a lot of personal information of students and sharing or publishing it without the consent of students or parents is an offense. Teachers should respect students’ privacy with dignity. Besides, each student must be treated as a separate individual, should not compare with others, and show respect towards individual talents. Gender, age, race, caste, religion, socio-economic status should not be taken into consideration while treating students in the classrooms.
In closing, it can be said in the words of Jan Eliasson, UN Deputy Secretary-General ‘there can be no peace without development, no development without peace, and no lasting peace or sustainable development without respect for human rights and the rule of law.’ Human Rights are inalienable, inter-dependence, equal, non-discriminatory, and participatory, and, herewith, it is inevitable to uphold the basic rights of school-going children for their holistic development as children are the future of any nation. Students’ learning opportunities, safety, privacy, and health must be prioritized. Institutions must take strict action against bullying, physical punishment, discrimination of any forms, emotional abuse, and psychological violence that causing the violation of students’ rights. Besides, to make students constructive agents, responsible stakeholders must ensure quality education with desired facilities and a secure learning environment in schools.
Nawaz Sarif is a Ph.D. scholar and a UGC fellow at the School of Education, North-Eastern Hill University (NEHU), Shillong, India. He has completed his master’s degree at Banaras Hindu University (BHU), Varanasi, India. Presently, he works on ‘the development of psychological capital in the young population’. Along with the research, he writes short articles on contemporary issues.