Observers condemn teacher-student affairs

Police are framing charges against the lecturers of the College of Language and Cultural Studies (CLCS) in Taktse, Trongsa, after the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) sent the case back to police.

The college president, Lungtean Gyatsho, lodged a complaint again nine lecturers and a supporting staff for criminal attempt to custodial rape, attempt to rape, official misconduct, sexual harassment and battery. The staff were compulsorily retired in May this year.

Trongsa police and a special investigation team from the RBP headquarters conducted the investigation for more than a month and charged six lecturers, four from the nine lecturers and two serving lecturers for the alleged offences.

OAG dropped charges of criminal attempt to custodial rape, attempt to rape, official misconduct and battery and reduced the charges to sexual harassment.

Many in Trongsa and those following the case closely questioned if the case was taken lightly by the investigating and prosecuting agencies, compromising the legal obligations of the teachers or lecturers.

A Trongsa resident said teaching is a noble profession and teachers should have a legal binding and obligation that would stop them from abusing students in any form.

He said that dropping the case would have multiple repercussions in the education sector that is experiencing increasing reported cases of sexual abuses by teachers. “Many teachers might assume that it is fine to have relationship with students if they are not charged for the misconduct.”

A corporate employee, Sonam, said taking the matter lightly would encourage the teachers to have illicit relationship with students, who are vulnerable as their grades would depend on the teachers.

She said that dropping charges against the lecturers might send wrong message to the educationists, who take advantage of the vulnerability of the students.

A former educationist said although all education documents state that teachers should not have affairs with students and all schools are supposed to have school policy that specifies the conduct, the documents are not legally binding.

He, however, said it is not only in Taktse College where there are affairs between lecturers and students. “There are many cases where lecturers are married to students of the same college.”

It was learnt that colleges are mandated to have faculty or staff and student relationship policy. Some colleges have policy on zero tolerance on consensual romantic or sexual relationship between faculty and student or staff and student.

He said that it was time for the Royal University of Bhutan (RUB) and education ministry to thrash out the issue and ensure conducive learning environment for students.

The investigating agency based their charges on the evidences gathered and did not take the anonymous confession of students.

Prosecutors explained that they looked at the criminal liability of the case and concluded that there was no criminal liability against the two lecturers, who married before the students before they joined the college or after the student completed studies. “We have asked police to charge the assistant professor if they find evidences,” a prosecutor said.

A senior attorney explained that if the students are minors, then there would be criminal charges against the lecturers, but anyone can have affairs if there is consent and if they attained the age of majority. “There are no criminal issues.”

They explained that the moral and ethical aspect of the relationship should be taken care by the administrative action the college took against the lecturers. 

“The teachers’ code of conduct and university’s rules and regulations should address it,” a prosecutor said.

Sources also say it is now time for the ministry and RUB to frame stringent policies to address the issue. The RUB’s Human Resource Rules and Regulations mention about the sexual harassment, but there is nothing specific on affairs between students and lecturers.

Tashi Dema

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