Sex abuse widespread in Bangladesh’s female madrassas
Although the problem is growing, few victims complain. In April three students were killed and seven raped. For one school principal, "The problem is due to mixed classes.” For another, “girls are unruly.” A consultant slams immoral teachers.
Dhaka (AsiaNews) – Anyone who commits sexual abuse "must be punished according to the law. No one should ever be killed like Nusrat Jahan Rafi, burnt alive," said Rasheda K Chowdhury, a consultant with the Bangladeshi government, speaking with AsiaNews about the violence female madrassa students experience.
Nusrat filed harassment charges against the headmaster of her school and refused to withdraw them. Her murder in early April sparked outrage, but also shed light on sex abuses against students in female madrassas (Quranic schools)
In Bangladesh about six million girls study in Quranic schools, which many parents choosing this type of education because they are free. There are two types of madrassas: private Qawmi schools, and government-sponsored Alia schools.
Education Ministry rules require teachers in such schools to be women, but female teachers represent at best 30 per cent of the total.
According to Chowdhury, the "government should better check teachers’ resumes. Morality should be the priority. The serious thing is that in the past physical violence was carried out by male students, now teachers are doing it.”
There are no data on abuse allegations because most victims are to afraid to speak out. This is the case of Nupor Akter (not her real name), who managed to escape rape.
"One day my teacher told me to stop at the end of the lesson,” the 19-year-old explained. “When all the other students had left, he forcibly hugged me. I realised what he wanted to do and I threatened to scream. At that point he let me go."
The young woman did not however have the strength to tell her parents. She eventually dropped out of school and got married, according to their wishes.
"I didn't feel safe in the madrassa,” she said, “because some teachers try to take advantage of the situation and assault students.”
Things are significantly different if the teachers are women. Nilufar Begum studies at the Uttara Mohila Madrassa, a girls' school on the outskirts of Dhaka. "There are only female teachers, who treat us very kindly,” she explained. “I have never had unpleasant experiences in my school."
According to Abdul Odud, president of the Darul Ulum Uttara Madrassa, "the rise in sexual assaults is due to mixed classes. Males and females should study in separate classes and for girls there should only be female teachers."
According to Gazi Mashudor Rahman, principal of another madrassa in the capital, "I think purdah might help (wearing the burqa). Today, instead, female students have mobile phones, they do not follow dress code, and lead an undisciplined life. Thus, they become victims of bad men. Madrassas should exercise strict control over teachers."