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OP-ED: Child abuse must be stopped in all its forms

  • Published at 03:24 am March 15th, 2021
Child Abuse
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Be it in homes or educational institutions, violence against children is never acceptable

Child abuse in educational institutions is nothing new in Bangladesh. A child who has gone to school/madrasa, especially in rural and suburban areas, and has not had first-hand experience of abuse and beatings by teachers is very scarce.

Children tend to be very fragile and curious; their eyes reveal the unbridled energy of boundless dreams. Hence, any form of physical, psychological, emotional, or sexual abuse can turn childhood memories into severely traumatic experiences when they grow up. Child abuse is more than physical wounds on the body; sometimes neglect and emotional abuse also leave lasting scars.

The recent 33-second video that went viral on social media, where a teacher can be seen mercilessly beating up an eight-year-old madrasa student, has incited public outrage like never before. But that is far from being the only case of such abuse.

Once this video received public attention, many more former madrasa students began coming out to share their stories, especially those who had been sent to Hifz centers (Quran learning centers for Muslims) in their childhood. It is an unfortunately common scenario that has become hackneyed in our imaginations.

I want to underscore that this is not only about madrasas; children do face abuse -- eg, getting beaten up with sticks or facing verbal violations -- in rural and suburban educational institutions in Bangladesh too. The majority of the cases often remain unreported.

While working with Unicef back in 2018-2019, I understood that most children don’t realize that they are victims of child abuse. Time and again, they blame themselves or internalize their agony and anger, and mourn within themselves. They don’t even know whom to seek assistance from in such cases. As a result, their academic performance can suddenly fall and psychological problems like poor self-care, low self-esteem, absenteeism, and sometimes aggression can manifest.

Children are too innocent to recognize neglect, physical abuse, verbal abuse, degradation, isolation, rejection, criticism, etc. So, the first step is to help a child learn all these terms. They also need to realize that emotional abuse requires as much attention as physical abuse. Children should be well informed about their rights and obligations.

Every institution in this country should reinforce the process of reporting, intervening in, and responding to violence against children. A separate unit for any violence within the school system must be opened. Children should be able to easily complain and express their feelings if they experience any CPA (Child Physical Abuse) or mental fatigue. Educational institutions should be a reliable place for children to learn freely and according to their own choice, not a jail center where one is forcibly made to swallow lessons.

We need to mind our words while speaking to children. We should try to be as didactic as possible. Children are habitually rebellious. They will do the exact things that they are instructed not to do. To that extent, a positive and convincing strategy can be taken rather than punitive measures. Teachers and school/madrasa principals should adopt non-violent teaching methods and more effective learning strategies. We need to ensure that we are not dominating the children by engendering fear, threat, or physical strength.

Lastly, no religion on earth ever approves of child abuse for the sake of learning. Child abuse has nothing to do with religions or particular institutions. Child abuse is child abuse, no matter where it takes place. Instead, we must be willing to implement exemplary punishments for every single case that comes by. More and more micro-level investigations should be conducted with the help of local administrations to ensure culpability for these ill-educated and inerudite souls who claim themselves to be scholars or teachers.

Saharin Priya Shaoun is a student of Public Administration and has been working in the development sector since 2017.

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