Another 21 children have been physically tortured during the same time
Various kinds of sexual harassment, physical torture and rape are rising alarmingly in educational institutions, especially in the Qawmi madrasas, due to lack of supervision, according to child rights activists.
Amid the pandemic, from January to March this year, at least 20 students were raped and sexually harassed in madrasas, colleges and technical institutes, Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF) said at a webinar yesterday.
Another 21 children were physically tortured during the same period in madrasas and safe homes.
Speakers at the webinar titled "Stop Child Abuse and Sexual Harassment in Educational Institutions" further discussed that no one knew what the madrasa authorities usually do when they get complaints of torture and sexual harassment of children, and the steps they take to prevent recurrence.
They also expressed concerns as the incidents of sexual harassment of students were on the rise in recent years.
Additional Secretary of the Ministry of Religious Affairs Muhammad A Awal Howlader, Controller of Publications of Madrasah Education Board Professor Riad Choudhury, Dhaka University law department teacher Professor Shahnaz Huda and Breaking the Silence Executive Director Roksana Sultana were among others who participated in the event.
MJF Executive Director Shaheen Anam hosted the program and Program Coordinator Arpita Das presented the report.
Shaheen Anam said: “The issue of sexual harassment in educational institutions should be brought under the culture of accountability. It is a matter of great concern for parents who send their children to educational institutions.”
Additional Secretary Awal stressed the need for initiating field-level campaigns to create social awareness to stop this menace.
Riad Choudhury said: “Counselling is needed to stop sexual harassments in these institutions. A zero-tolerance policy can help reduce such occurrences.”
Professor Shahnaz Huda said: "Not only in Bangladeshi madrasas, in 2020 there were allegations of sexual harassment against 700 Catholic religious leaders and monks in Thailand.”
The religious authorities should respond to the allegations against them immediately, she said. “Otherwise, people's perception towards them will change. There should be a committee in every madrasa so that the students can lodge complaints to them.”
According to media reports, at least 679 students were sexually harassed, attempted to be raped or raped in schools, madrasas, public places and houses from January to December last year.