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School in Gelephu initiates sexual abuse awareness programmes

Almost a year after the issue of a teacher in a lower secondary school in Gelephu molested five girls surfaced, the school authority claim that they initiated programmes to make the environment conducive for the students.

Teachers, students and the local community say it took almost a month for them to overcome the shock when police came to the campus to arrest the accused teacher in November last year.

The school principal (name withheld to protect the identity of the victims) said things have normalised now.

“While three girls continue to study in the same school, two have changed school,” he said. “The girls here are attending regular classes.”

He said as soon as the academic session resumed this year, a health club committee, consisting of at least four lady teachers, was formed. “The teachers created awareness on different topics such as the gainful use of social media, sexual abuse, substance abuse, legal aspect of coming in conflict with the law and menstrual hygiene among others.”

He also said the committee members conducted awareness session, which was attended by all 16 teachers and 319 students.

The principal said that one important aspect of the awareness session was on encouraging students to share their problems. “Irrespective of the type of problem, the students are told to come forward and talk to any teacher they are comfortable with.”

He said the first molestation incident happened in April last year and other four girls were molested in the following months on different occasions. “Had the student told about it initially, other abuses could have been avoided.”

The principal emphasised that it is important for students, especially girls to share when they are inappropriately touched.

He said the girls were closely monitored for any sign of trauma or disturbance in their studies after the incident was reported. “We found that they were overcoming the incident and no separate counselling was given to them. There wasn’t a need. This was to avoid psychological affect and stigma on them.”

The principal said when such issue arises in the school; it calls for the need of a trained counsellor in every school. “Students would approach the counsellors and share their concerns.”

The school has about 50 students walking to the school for at least an hour. To ensure their safety, students are asked to walk to and from school in groups.

The incident, teachers say, also affected them.

A teacher said the incident not only brought embarrassment to the school but to all male teachers.

“Some male teachers were even hesitant to associate with the school at one point of the time,” a teacher said.

The teacher, however, said the incident was a lesson, as besides being vigilant about sexual abuses in the future, teachers are working together to making students aware and feel comfortable in the school.

Parents of the students say their children are coping and have moved on.

A parent of one of the 13-year-old girls said although her daughter has overcome the incident for now, she is worried that it will haunt her for life.

Another parent of a class VI student said that her daughter is okay now. “It affected her initially, as she was hesitant to go to school,” he said.

Meanwhile, it was learnt that the 31-year-old teacher, who was alleged of molesting the girls have been granted bail. The teacher is from Sergithang in Tsirang.

Nirmala Pokhrel | Gelephu

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