In February this year, a teacher in Gelephu was charged for attempting to rape a student and allegedly molesting four others. The incident, which involved girls between 12-14 years, occurred last April.
This April, a vice principal of a private school in Thimphu was detained for allegedly molesting nine girl students aged between 11 and 15 years.
Soon after the recent issue came to the fore, RENEW officials were at the school in Bjemina to sensitise students on children’s rights, sexual reproductive health and rights, gender equality and domestic violence. The police have gone public with the identity of the vice principal, besides the hospital technician, stating that it is a painful decision to do so but was done in the larger interest of the community. The education ministry has also stated that counselling sessions have begun for the nine students and the vice principal’s family in Bjemina. It has also commissioned a review of teacher recruitment system in the private schools.
Another minister has also called for a system where those with past records of sex crimes should never be allowed around children.
These moves were taken and recommended to assure people who are outraged by the conduct of professionals in institutions that the society considers sacred. That it took this incident and not the earlier reported case in Gelephu involving a teacher of a public school to get the authorities spring into action is as disturbing. Perhaps, the circumstances differ but inaction from authorities in the past could have emboldened those like the recently accused to continue his condemnable acts.
Violence against children is done in many ways and it is not new. Inaction from authorities concerned could be construed as one form of violence. Studies have found that children rarely disclose the violence they experience and when they do so, they share it with friends and family. To what extent this is due to absence of counsellors in primary schools or lack of helpline services is yet to be assessed. The inactions from the JDWNRH, the health ministry and the NCWC are questionable.
But even if it took the recent case, we are seeing some efforts being made, at least in the education sector.
The education fraternity and the ministry has condemned the vice principal’s actions and has commissioned a review of the recruitment of teachers in private schools. The ministry has assured the people that its schools are safe and secure centres for learning and that the recent incident is an exception. Because the lives of our children and teachers are at stake, such reassurances must be backed with measures to regain the confidence in the education system.
The education ministry could start maintaining a record of individuals involved in committing such criminal acts and monitor recruitment of teachers in private schools. Agencies must support the ministry in recruiting counsellors and setting up helplines for students and parents. If the intent is to support, civil society organisations must be proactive in conducting sensitisation programmes in schools and institutions. Rushing to a school after an incident is reported appears more as publicity stunt than as an effort to help.