Soon after the education ministry condemned the vice principal of a charity school in Thimphu for allegedly molesting nine girl students, a principal and a teacher of Haa were detained in Phuentsholing for allegedly throwing a newborn out of a hotel window.
The newborn’s mother works at a Haa school as a sweeper. The involvement of the school principal and the teacher are being investigated. Medical reports have confirmed that the baby was born alive.
Public outrage over such disturbing conduct of teachers and health personnel is understandable because these people are expected to help and protect, not harm and exploit women and children. The ministry’s plea to quell the rage may have helped reassure the public that the Bjemina incident, as unacceptable as it was, was an exception. Now, we are confronted with two more teachers accused of committing a heinous crime against a newborn.
From Gelephu to Bjemina to Haa, the recent cases involving teachers have occurred in primary schools. While their remoteness may have allowed these schools to fall on the blind spot of policymakers, we also observe a trend of authorities concerned neglecting primary schools. For one, we are told that primary schools do not have school counsellors.
The importance of primary education in developing the cognitive, social, emotional, cultural, and physical skills of children is well documented. What they learn in primary schools moulds them into the person they grow up to be. But recent cases show that our children in primary schools fear their teachers and principals. In Gelephu, parents feared that not sending their child to the teacher would result in the child failing examinations.
For the obedience and respect they get from children and their parents, teachers are abusing their position and sexually exploiting students and support staff.
Besides widespread shock, disgust and condemnations from authorities over the week, these incidents, although isolated, are also propagating a sense of institutional betrayal.
While the education ministry is working on taking measures to ensure safety in schools and to maintain their sanctity, the recent cases call for a discourse on our attitude and beliefs towards women and children.
We may have normalised systemic abuse of women and children and organisational tolerance by rationalising it as a cultural phenomenon, but it takes a gruesome crime to remind the society of the aggression inflicted on women and children.
It is time we asked how a compassionate society that we claim to be tolerate these situations. It is time we questioned what influences maintain this social construction and what can be done to change it. Among the many questions raised on the recent cases is this: what’s happening to our teachers?