One year since the sexual abuse exposéIt would be a disservice to all if we forget the survivors of Lalitpur Madhyamik Vidhyalaya and the victims in so many other schools.
In January 2020, a year will have passed since The Kathmandu Post published harrowing details of sexual abuse by three teachers—Bodha Raj ‘Basu’ Tripathee, Suman KC and Gokul Sharma, at Lalitpur Madhyamik Vidhyalaya. Alumni reports recalled in painstaking detail traumatic experiences of abuse. Almost a year later, we must ask ourselves what has come out of it. It must have taken unfathomable courage on the part of the survivors to be named in a national daily with intimate details of their experiences. Yet, we seem to have forgotten them and their stories.
No legal action was taken against any of the accused. According to Article 74 Clause 2 of the Act Relating to Children 2018, the statute of limitations for cases of sexual violence against children ends one year after the child turns eighteen. None of the alumni qualified to file an FIR against any of the accused. The narratives of most of the survivors clearly show that they did not comprehend what was happening. This is often true of sexual violence against children who cannot fully grasp the nature of what is being done to them. In some cases, the experience is so traumatic that the brain blocks the memory. It might be years after the event took place before the survivor starts to remember what happened. Considering these facts, it is irrational that the law mandates cases of sexual violence against children be reported within a year after the child turns 18.
The parents of one of the girls who qualified to file an FIR backed down according to media reports. It leaves one wondering if it was the girl’s decision or the parents. Too often, parents dissuade daughters from seeking legal action against abusers who are frequently relatives or teachers. When parents discourage and even prohibit daughters from reporting cases of abuse, it is a violation of their duty as the child’s guardian.
According to Article 68 of the Act Relating to Children, ‘If the father, mother, guardian and those who directly provide services to children such as caregivers, teachers, health workers or any other person come to know about an incident of violence against children or child sexual abuse that has taken place, that is taking place or that is going to take place, she/he shall inform the nearest police station immediately.’ This is not a gentle reminder but a legal provision.
Further, Article 70 of the Act outlines in detail the action that the police must take once it receives information about a case of sexual abuse against a child. If necessary, they are required to rescue the child and refer them to a temporary protection service. As in the aforementioned case, Nepal Police in most cases does nothing and is not held accountable. But if it were to rescue children, where would these children go? The necessary infrastructure and system are nonexistent.
It seems like our policymakers, our government and even our parents have mistaken the cases of abuse highlighted at Lalitpur Madhyamik Vidhyalaya as a one-off incident. It is not. In Nepal, where the mobility of young girls is severely restricted and heavily monitored, they become abused not by strangers but by relatives and teachers. At school, where girls spend most of their time, they are perhaps most vulnerable. Such abuse cases sometimes occur in plain sight of other students, the administration and parents. One of the teachers at Lalitpur Madhyamik Vidhyalaya, for instance, was reported to have said, ‘I had once heard rumours about it, and I had even spoken to the girl’s brother but he brushed it off and I didn’t give it much thought either.’
How can someone whose responsibility it is to protect children just forget or not give something as serious and heinous as sexual violence much thought? How is it even okay to make such a statement with no culpability? It was the teacher’s duty to follow up on it to the highest levels—including the Police— and not just have a one-off talk with the victim’s brother. Abuse against children at a school cannot go on for years without the complicity of multiple parties. Unfortunately, this happens in more than just that one school.
What are we telling girls by our inaction, particularly those who are being abused in school at this very moment? That we are unwilling to protect them? That even if they stand up against their abusers, nothing will happen? That the math teacher who puts his hand up your skirt, touches your breast or makes you sit on his lap will continue doing so forever? What measures have we taken to protect our girls in schools?
One of the only good things that has come out of the survivor's stories is that the school committed to conducting classes on sexual violence. However, there is no provision to hold them accountable. There has been no systematic measure as simple as a mandate by the Ministry of Education making sexual violence classes compulsory. While we have informal classes run by various organisations, they are in no way enough and there is no standardised curriculum for them to follow.
We can ensure that there are consequences for people in power, who by their inaction choose to let abusers continue finding victims. We need a designated person in every educational institution, outside the teaching or administrative staff, whose sole responsibility is to investigate cases of sexual violence—even if they are just rumours. Measures can be introduced to encourage people to report cases. The process of filing cases must be simplified. We can design provisions that mandate the counsellor to report cases directly to the Child Welfare Commision and create special judicial processes for deliberation.
We are often quick to slut-shame girls but so reluctant and unable to provide protection or mechanisms for redress. It would be a disservice to all lest we forget the survivors of Lalitpur Madhyamik Vidhyalaya and the victims in so many other schools.
What do you think?
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