Abuse case a 'wake-up call'

Abuse case a 'wake-up call'

Student abuse claims raise concerns about school safety

The alleged sexual assault of an 11-year-old Prathom five (Grade 5) female student by a 12-year-old Prathom six (Grade 6) boy at a school in Wichian Buri district of Phetchabun province on June 21 is a wake-up call for society.

Dr Varoth Chotpitayasunondh, spokesman for the Department of Health, said the case is raising public concern about safety in schools and ways for students to learn about and protect themselves from sexual violence.

To those ends, schools must play a key role in protecting students from sexual crimes both within and outside school grounds. Dr Varoth said that if both offender and victim are students, they must undergo recovery and rehabilitation processes. The community, families, schools and medical health teams likewise must work together to deal with the problem.

He said it's important that a victim's family not blame the victim, and equally important that an offender's family not try unduly protect the offender. Neither will help solve the problem.

Dr Varoth said school executives should focus more on sex education in school, saying schools should have in place an effective system to manage cases. Moreover, issues surrounding sexual offences should not be as hidden any more. He added the age of sexual crime victims is declining.

"We should begin by observing a child's behaviour. Any child who commits a sexual crime usually starts with small-scale sexual harassment. Without warnings from teachers or parents, they will keep doing it until it develops into actual sexual crime,'' he said.

School staff are also concerned about the incidents, with some schools teaching self-protection skills to their students to prevent sexual crimes.

Malai Chaiburin, a teacher of pre-primary student development centre in Suvanaprasit II school in Bung Kum district, said the centre helps children learn about their bodies and explains to them which parts should be concealed and that others are not allowed to touch. "Sexual harassment happens to children of all ages ... and can happen anywhere ... so children need to learn how to get assistance if needed. If their own house is not a safe place for them, the school must be able to help them," Ms Malai said.

She said all schools should be more active in protecting children from any violence.

Despite being a small primary school with about 300 students in Songkhla's Sathing Phra district, Wat Bo Daeng school has put a strong focus on child protection since 2004 by providing a special class to educate the children on how to be safe from sexual harassment or sexual abuse.

Chavewan Sunsuwan, chief of the school's child protection project, said the school has worked closely with the Centre for the Protection of Children's Rights, a main partner for training teachers on how to instruct children self-defensive responses against sexual harassment or sexual abuse.

She said the school provides a basic sex course from kindergarten level and up to intensive courses for Prathom 4 to 6, or children aged 10-12 years, when they are getting close to adolescence and undergoing physical changes.

Roleplay based on different scenarios allows children to learn how to stay safe when faced with unpleasant situations regarding their body. A two-day intensive programme has received good feedback from students and parents, she said.

Ms Chavewan cited the case of one young girl who encountered sexual harassment on a public bus when a male passenger squeezed her buttocks. She coped with the situation by asking the driver to stop the bus and calling her relatives for help. The man ran away from the scene.

When she returned to school, she shared her story with teachers. She said she was lucky to attend the course as it helped her manage the situation properly, Ms Chavewan said. "I do hope that the course will be applied to all schools because children are under a threat of sexual harassment that takes many forms. Hence, it is very important to let them know how to be safe," she said.

Thongpairam Puytrakool, head of the child and family development unit of the Centre for the Protection of Children's Rights, said sexual violence against children is found mostly in early-year high school and primary school.

But wherever it occurs it should not be ignored and schools must have a system to respond each case, along with systems to ensure children are safe.

She said the Ministry of Education has promoted a policy of school safety, including steps to prevent sexual violence. But one challenge is turning policies into actions and achieving full cooperation among schools, families and communities.

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