Thursday, February 2, 2012

Forced Haircut in Schools is Corporal Punishment


Forced Haircut in Schools is Corporal Punishment
(Why This Policy Is Unjust and Violates Basic Child Rights)

Valencia City, BUKIDNON.  The Department of Education (DepEd) has a long-standing policy that governs good grooming. This includes prescribing a so-called proper haircut for male pupils in both private and public schools.  According to Undersecretary Yolanda Quijano, “the prescribed haircut for boys is at least one inch above the ear and three inches above the collar line.” Schools under the supervision of DepEd are required to follow such standard.

Unfortunately, this “haircut policy” has no clear implementing guidelines.  As a general practice, school principals and administrators have the authority to define their own sets of rules on how to implement the policy, including the enforcement of disciplinary actions on erring pupils.



Guided only by ‘outdated and handed-down’ practices, some schools resort to forced cutting of hair, known in Filipino as “sinasatsatan” or in Bisaya as “pinahakan.”  This involves cutting just a portion of the child’s hair so that he can be forced to get a proper haircut from a legitimate barber.  Most of the time, forced haircut is done in front of the whole class or in full view of other students.

Incidents of Forced Haircut in Valencia City Central Elementary School (VCCES)

Sometime in November 2011, a few days after the celebration of All Saint’s Day, an incident of forced hair cutting came to the attention of this author.  Several pupils in Grades 1 and 3 were subjected by a certain Mr. Flores to a forced haircut.  Flores entered each classroom and picked several pupils who were sporting “un-prescribed haircut.”  He then started cutting the hair (pinahakan) of hapless students in front of the whole class.  One pupil felt terribly embarrassed because his classmates were laughing at him.

After the incident, this author visited the office of Ms. Margie M. Bayagna, the principal of VCCES, to point out that forced hair cutting, as a form of disciplinary measure, can be considered corporal punishment and tantamount to child abuse.  It clearly violates the DepEd’s standing order against the application of corporal punishment in schools.

Ms. Bayagna stressed that the pupils were informed about the “scheduled forced hair cutting” during the previous day’s flag raising ceremony.  She also added that such disciplinary measure was a standing policy of VCCES.  This author countered that it is wrong to implement a measure that violates the prohibition on corporal punishment.

After a pleasant discussion and exchange of ideas, the good principal promised to look deeply into the matter and make appropriate actions, if necessary.  Apparently, the points I raised with the school principal were totally ignored.  I belatedly heard that in a general assembly called by the school in late November, the parents were ‘advised’ that their children can be subjected to forced hair cutting if they continue to sport ‘un-prescribed’ haircut.

And so in January 30, 2012, another round of forced cutting of hair was implemented, again by Mr. Flores.  This time however, the punishment was applied ‘en masse.’  All male pupils were gathered on the school’s open field and were asked to ‘line-up’ for inspection.  The good Mr. Flores started cutting the hair of several students who were found sporting the un-prescribed haircut.  This second incident was done in full view of everyone in the school.

Forced Haircut Is Corporal Punishment and Violates Child Rights

Arbitrarily cutting the hair of a pupil is a form of corporal punishment.  This has been established by Save the Children-Sweden under the category of Other Direct Assault.  Some of the specific forms of assault that fall under this category include “pinching, pulling ears or hair, cutting or shaving hair (emphasis mine), cutting or piercing skin, carrying or dragging children against her or his will.”

To further establish the fact that forced haircut is a form or corporal punishment, one must take note of the groundbreaking judicial precedent in Bangladesh.  The Bangladeshi Supreme Court said that caning, beating, chaining, forced haircuts (emphasis mine), and confinement are used to punish children in primary and secondary schools and ruled that “such punishments are clear violations of children's fundamental rights...”

In the Philippines, the law provides specific protection for children under Republic Act 7610.  Section 3, Paragraph (b), Number (2) of the said Act specifically states that: “Any act by deeds or words which debases, degrades or demeans the intrinsic worth and dignity of a child as a human being;” is considered child abuse and maltreatment.

Forced cutting of hair, especially in front of the whole class and other students, constitutes an act that debases the intrinsic dignity of children.  This form of punishment embarrasses the child and could scar him psychologically.

The Department of Education Service Manual of 2000 also prohibits “meting out cruel or unusual punishment of any nature, holding up a pupil/student to unnecessary ridicules...  (emphasis mine)”.  Teachers and school officials can be suspended or expelled from the service if they are found violating these specific provisions of the Service Manual.

Forced Haircut Is Unjust Punishment

Forced cutting of hair is unjust and uncalled for.  A child in primary school (Grades 1 - 4) does not control how his hair should look like or when he should get a haircut.  It is the parents who decide on these matters.

Punishing the child for an offense that he can not control is simply unjust.  It is like punishing Juan for an offense committed by Pedro -- there is no justice in this kind of situation.  The best approach to address the infraction is to call the parents or send notice to them.  It is not right to mete out punishment to an innocent child without exhausting all available constructive measures.

Forced haircut maybe considered by some people as a minor issue.  The sad reality is that corporal punishment, child abuse, and child rights violations continue to exist in Philippine schools.  The best way to start solving these bigger problems is to start correcting small and seemingly harmless abuses, such as forced haircut.

It is also important to take note that imposing child discipline does not mean meting out punishments.  Schools must apply constructive disciplinary measures that do not violate the basic human rights of schoolchildren.  ##

January 31, 2012
First published as a Letter to the Editor in Bukidnon Online Blog (February 2, 2012)