Lax monitoring in educational institutions, especially in Qawmi madrasas, has caused an increase in various types of torture, including sexual harassment of students.
Sadly, there is scarcely any discussion at the national level on issues such as what is taught in these unregulated institutions, whether the national anthem is played there or if important national days are celebrated.
On the webinar, "Stopping Child Abuse and Sexual Harassment in Educational Institutions," organised by the Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF) on Thursday, speakers also said we have to see where students are being engaged after completing their studies.
As Qawmi Madrasas are not under the control of the Madrasah Education Board, it is not possible to determine exactly what happens at Qawmi madrasas and what measures can be taken to stop wrongdoing, reads a press release issued by the MJF.
In the past, attempts were made to cover up incidents of rape and sexual harassment in Qawmi madrasas and other educational institutions, but such incidents are coming to the forefront at present.
Data from nine national dailies shows that from January-March this year, 20 students were raped and sexually harassed in educational institutions. Also, 21 children have been tortured in these three months only in madrasas and safe homes.
MJF Executive Director Shaheen Anam said, "We have to develop a culture of accountability for sexual harassment issues in educational institutions. These types of abuse are a matter of great concern for parents."
Religion Ministry Additional Secretary MA Awal Hawlader said, "Awareness activities should be taken to the field level to stop these incidents. The public needs to know what happens and what could happen. It is very important to change our mindset and morals."
Professor Riyad Chowdhury of the Madrasah Education Board said, "We have to take a holistic approach to stop sexual harassment and torture in educational institutions. Institutions need to provide counselling and adopt a zero-tolerance policy if such crimes are proven."
Associate Professor Kamal Uddin of the Madrasah Board, said, "We have to be aware to make sure just anyone cannot set up a madrasa if he wishes to. Many children from poor families come here to study because they get food assistance at a Qawmi madrasa. It is easy to torture them because they have no place to talk to [for help]. We all have to pay attention here."
Professor Dr Shahnaz Huda from the Department of Law at Dhaka University said, "Not only in madrasas here, but there were also allegations of sexual harassment against 700 Catholic clerics and monks in Thailand in 2020. Religious authorities should now respond to allegations against them. Otherwise, people's perception of them will change. There should be a committee so that the students of a madrasa can complain."
Abdus Rashid, a lawyer at Ain O Salish Kendra, said, "In the Prevention of Violence Against Women and Children Act, there is nothing specific about sexual harassment and rape concerning male children, which confuses law enforcement and lawyers."
Roxana Sultana from Breaking the Silence said children in educational institutions become victims of sexual harassment because of their faith and fear.
The report was presented by MJF Programme Coordinator Arpita Das.
Associated organisations of MJF participated in the webinar and made various recommendations.