Stronger protection from sexual abuse is required in schools
The recent rape of a seven-year-old girl in a school in Delhi’s Mangolpuri has shocked people and led to widespread protests. According to early reports, the Class II student had gone to collect her mid-day meal when the culprit took her to a vacant classroom and assaulted her. Such incidents highlight the rising threats of sexual violence and harassment faced by students from a very tender age; the threat is even higher in case of students from weaker sections, particularly those living in hostels.
The allegations from Chhattisgarh are particularly worrying as these indicate higher-level linkages of more systemic and continuing sexual exploitation. For example, despite reports of alleged sexual exploitation in Amadula hostel for tribal girl students (located in Balod district) over the years, the woman official who was at the centre of the controversy was promoted and honoured on several occasions. She was finally arrested only when allegations became simply too many. The available evidence indicates that sexual exploitation continued here for about six years despite repeated attention being drawn to the issue.
Earlier this year, another case of exploitation was exposed in the State’s Jhaliyamari village hostel in Kanker district. Several arrests were made in this case. The hostel or ashram reportedly lacked essential facilities for toilet and bathing so that the girls had to go out for this and some of their rooms could not even be bolted from inside. At night frequently they were left to the mercy of male employees.
A recent survey by Jagriti Manch in Bhopal revealed that many students staying in hostels not only face sexual harassment but several of them are also being blackmailed. Similarly, many such cases of exploitation and abuse have been reported from Rajasthan, Goa and Mizoram even as many cases get hushed up.
An important factor in many such cases is the presence of persons who exploit their positions or contacts to evade strict action being taken against them. In a much discussed case from Jaipur, a lady teacher who complained against sexual harassment by the then principal of her school lost her job. As pressure mounted, the principal also had to leave but he soon found a job in another school in Lalitpur, Uttar Pradesh.
Clearly, much more needs to be done to ensure protection of girl students. This includes giving the highest priority to safety aspects in schools and hostels and taking prompt action against the offenders.