Tears in our safety net

SCHOOLS are seen as a safe space for our children to learn and develop so naturally when a 17-year-old was sexually harassed for daring to call out her Physical and Health Education teacher for joking about rape during a lesson, it sparked a nationwide outrage.

Ain Husniza Saiful Nizam, who lodged a police report against the teacher and a fellow student who threatened to rape her, received a lot of support from the public for wanting to put an end to rape culture, but there were some who were angry at her for having the audacity to bring shame to her teacher and school.

The National Union of Teaching Profession (NUTP), in a statement on May 7, voiced its strong objection against any form of sexual harassment.

If an incident has happened, the victim must bring the issue to justice, said its president Aminuddin Awang.

“There are 450,000 teachers nationwide. It is not fair for any party to (simply) point fingers at our teachers in matters relating to sexual harassment.

“Our teachers are trained, dedicated, disciplined, and committed. They work hard for our students, ” he said.

The Education Minister, Datuk Dr Mohd Radzi Md Jidin, has assured the public that the ministry would not tolerate the incident involving Ain Husniza if proven true.

The teacher has since been transferred to the state education department pending a police investigation. There is, however, still a need to make schools safer.

Schools, said Parent Action Group for Education (PAGE) president Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim, are generally safe but there is still a sexist culture that makes victims feel oppressed and uncomfortable.

Describing it as a systemic problem, Noor Azimah said if not stopped, the culture would continue into adulthood as evidenced by incidences of incest in homes, rape, sexual harassment and molestation at the workplace.

In 2019, an online poll on sexual harassment with 28,852 respondents was conducted by the Women Development Department.

Of this, 6,925 respondents were below the age of 20 and 1,176 of them were school students.

The results of that poll revealed that 64% of 28,852 respondents claimed to have personally experienced sexual harassment.

Alliance for Safe Community chairman Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye said sexual harassment is a problem that exists in our community but a lack of data has led to the situation we are facing today.

“Sexual harassment is being brushed off in schools and is not being taken seriously.

“Sexual harassment in whatever form must not be tolerated in schools because it is a place to educate our young.

“There are laws to protect children, ” he said, pointing to the Child Act 2001 which consolidates the Juvenile Courts Act 1947 (Act 90), the Women and Girls Protection Act 1973 (Act 106), and the Child Protection Act 1991 (Act 468).It was enacted partially in order to fulfil Malaysia’s obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, he said.

A Unicef Malaysia situation analysis of women and children in the country that was completed last year had also acknowledged Malaysia’s effort to strengthen child protection.“The Education Ministry has also put into place the Safe School Policy and Child Protection Policy, which are fully complied by all schools in the nation, ” said Lam. — By REBECCA RAJAENDRAM

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