Making schools friendlier and safer for childrenSchools in other parts of the country need to start exercises in laying down rules and provisions aimed at curbing instances of sexual assault in schools.
In Nepal, the prevailing culture of silence and the unquestioning attitude that adults, especially teachers, instil in young children often limits survivors from speaking out. Last year, it came to light that a Maths teacher at Lalitpur Madhyamik Vidyalaya in Lagankhel sexually abused young girls for decades, but there are many cases in schools all over Nepal that still go unreported. In Butwal too, some students have filed complaints against their teachers and even principals, on account of sexual abuse. Given this, Butwal Sub-Metropolitan City’s plan to launch a programme to raise awareness of bullying and sexual abuse is a welcome move.
According to Guma Devi Acharya, the deputy mayor of Butwal, the programme is intended to make ‘schools friendlier and safer for children’. Children spend most of their time in school. That is where their formative experiences are shaped. Therefore, it is a fundamental right of children to study in an environment where one feels safe and is free from any kind of physical or emotional abuse, since it is bound to have a significant impact on their ability to attend school and learn.
Under the programme initiated by Butwal Sub-Metropolitan City, every school is supposed to assign a focal person, a counsellor of sorts. The focal person’s job is to promptly take initiatives to resolve any complaints that are filed by students. The sub-metropolis has also urged schools to install at least one complaint box and manage separate toilets. But what the sub-metropolitan city is doing is merely implementing the guidelines set by the federal government two years ago.
Incidents of sexual exploitation in schools hamper the cause of reducing the gender gap in literacy. Students have often been found to quit school due to the negative attitude of their teachers. Incidents of sexual abuse in schools often have a lasting trauma on girls. When teachers and principals, who are entrusted with shaping children, turn predators, it's an appalling violation of the parents’ trust and a breach of the commitment they make to themselves when taking up the job.
Nepal’s new constitution promulgated in September 2015, guarantees school as a violence-free site for education. Taking a cue from Butwal Sub-Metropolitan City, schools in other parts of the country too need to start exercises in laying down rules and provisions aimed at curbing instances of sexual assault in schools. Schools need to constitute separate committees for redressal of grievances of the public, staff, parents and students. What’s more, safety audits of schools need to be done by their respective local police stations.
On the legal front, the system in place has its limitations in dealing with child sexual abuse. But they should be addressed with urgency. The number of courts and judges should be increased, cases should be heard on a fast-track basis, and victims should be counseled daily at the time of the trial.
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