Bangladesh to add sexual harassment topics to school curriculum as it fights rape

  • Senior Correspondent,
    Published: 2020-10-12 02:40:59 BdST


The government is including topics on violence against women and sexual harassment in school curriculum to sensitise children about the dangers, Dipu Moni says.

The education minister revealed the move at a virtual dialogue on Sunday amid protests against a rise in the number of rape incidents in Bangladesh.

Non-governmental organisation BRAC organised the dialogue titled “Girls must return to schools” to mark the International Day of the Girl Child.

Protests have continued in Dhaka and elsewhere in the country for several days following a spate of rape and sexual violence against women amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Amid mounting anger, protesters have called for concrete efforts to stop such incidents by preventing the spread of misogyny. They are also demanding exemplary punishment of the rapists through swift trials.

“Important topics such as women’s repression and sexual violence are being included in our curriculum. Not only the COVID-19 crisis, we are repurposing our curriculum to tackle all sorts of challenges,” Dipu Moni said.

The participants of the dialogue expressed concerns over the rising rate of school dropouts and child marriages amid a pandemic-forced shutdown of the educational institutions.

“The birth registration process is being digitised at union levels. As a result, parents cannot fake their girls’ age and marry them off early,” the minister said.

Aroma Dutta, an MP from the seats reserved for women, said any decision must be realistic.

“It's true that we've lost a lot during this pandemic. The rate of school drop-outs has increased. We need to ensure technological and technical education for students, especially girls, so that they can secure their livelihood whenever needed,” she added.

Dipu Moni, however, claimed that the government has reached most of its target students in case of digital classrooms.

“The standards of lessons being imparted through television have increased. Not only the government, but many non-government institutions are also taking online classes. So, it is not mandatory for students to go to classes,” she said.

“In many countries, schools have been shut after reopening. We need to consider every aspect before deciding on reopening our educational institutions,” she added.

Rasheda K Choudhury, the executive director of Campaign for Popular Education or CAMPE, pointed out that the school closure has affected both the students and the teachers.

“This pandemic is acting like a magnifying glass for us. Through this, we can examine all our mistakes and think of our way forward. Before reopening schools, we need to concentrate on the related data and reality,” she said.

She also urged the education minister to introduce incentives in the education sector like other sectors and ensure snacks for students during school hours.

Professor Sadeka Halim of the Dhaka University said the education system cannot be viewed as an isolated phenomenon.

“We need to think about what can be done for about 43 percent families who have been forced under the poverty line and these families have a large number of students from schools, colleges and universities,” said Sadeka, the first female dean of the university’s social sciences faculty.

Simon Barclay, first secretary at the Australian High Commission in Dhaka, said “There is a role for both boys and the men to support the girl children to have a voice in any space—may it be at school, or at mosque or temple or in cyberspace. The men and boys need to speak up to support their mothers, sisters or aunts to participate.”

“Staying away from schools already increases the risks of dropping out. In terms of learning losses, when the schools reopen, both students and teachers need to intensify their efforts to address the losses. However, their return should not be at the cost of their life, so health issues must be addressed,” Barclay added.

“The long closure of schools is forcing our students to forget what they have already learnt,” said Asif Saleh, BRAC’s executive director.

He suggested reopening schools in districts where the rate of infection is lower.

Amena Begum, the additional commissioner of Chattogram Metropolitan Police and president of Bangladesh Police Women Network, and Tahera Jabeen, social development adviser to the British High Commission in Dhaka, also joined the dialogue moderated by BRAC Director Nobonita Chowdhury.