Gender Gender

Milenge schoolgirl a lost chance for justice?

Gender Focus with JUDITH KONAYUMA
LAST week we carried a story about a school pupil who was allegedly defiled by her teacher. In an apparent effort to hush up the case, the head teacher, in collusion with her parents, allegedly transferred the girl to a different school.
Up to then, her whereabouts were unknown, according to the police in Luapula Province.
This case makes sad reading. My interest is not in the teacher who is alleged to have defiled the girl, but the alleged action by the head teacher and her parents. The police, too, are not left out.
As for the teacher who is alleged to have committed the offence, well, let the law take its course, since he is said to have been arrested. That is not my preoccupation for now.
I am concerned about the Milenge Boarding Secondary School pupil in Luapula who was allegedly raped by her teacher. For now, it is reported that she was transferred to an unknown school.
The 16-year-old grade 10 girl has not been seen since the matter became known but the head teacher charges that the police in the area where the case was reported know where the girl is.
Girl children still remain endangered and any efforts to safeguard them should take into consideration their welfare first. Short of this, they are not safe.
It is disappointing in this case to see that those who should take up the case and see its conclusive end are not helping enough. In the forefront are the parents who should seek justice for their daughter.
One would think that as the offended party, the parents would be in the forefront to work with the police and the head teacher to fight against such cases of child abuse.
As those who have lost out by the defilement of their daughter, it is cardinal to realize that no amount of compensation can make up for that loss.
It leaves one wondering what the parents were up to if they agreed to have the girl moved from the school to an unknown place. What they do not realize is that their daughter is a possible key witness if the case involving the suspected teacher reaches the courts and goes to trial stage.
In a case like this one, the girl is left at the mercy of the older people, her parents, the head teacher and the police. After all, these are all authorities. She just has to do as she is told. Poor girl!
This is a typical case of relatives who frustrate efforts aimed at fighting child abuse. It is a known fact by now that a number of cases of defilement never reach the courts because they are somehow hushed up, sometimes even before they reach the police. In many instances, parents choose to protect the offender at the expense of a powerless victim.
In the meantime, the victim is consigned to silently suffer the effects of sexual abuse. She has no one to turn to and there is no one to help her. In the long run, such a girl can be psychologically affected.
When children are in school, authorities have the power to ensure the safety of the children under their care, whether they are boys or girls.
This is why they come up with rules so that children are protected either amongst themselves or outside of their domain.
A number of boarding schools and day schools make it mandatory to keep children away from teachers’ houses. A pupil who is found at a teacher’s house will be deemed to be out of bounds and a punishment will follow.
Children are allowed at teachers’ houses only in exceptional cases, either in the company of other children or armed with a special note from the head teacher’s office.
We all know how children are restless and quick to stray and sometimes end up in undesignated areas. It is in such places where they are bound to encounter danger.
I wonder whether it is the case at this school. Schools should ensure rules are not flouted anyhow, or else it defeats the purpose of instituting them.
Once the case came to the attention of the school authorities, one would have expected the girl to be under their watchful eye. Allowing her to transfer to an unknown school leaves more questions begging for answers, unless it was done under considerations of her safety. This does not seem to be the case.
A case of defilement ends up in court. It is at this point that the school authorities should have prevented the transfer of the girl or make sure they are able to trace her whereabouts as a way of showing they care about pursuing justice.
The police, too, share a portion of blame in the handling of this case. In all fairness, they know better the implications of failure to investigate and gather evidence for a case. It leaves the courts with no basis for trying a case.
Everyone runs to the police for safety because it is their duty to protect people and property. Any compromise in the execution of their responsibility is an abrogation of their duty. Such calculated failure on the part of the police results in loss of public confidence.
The Police has the Victim Support Unit (VSU) as a partner in the fight against defilement and gender-based violence. This is to emphasise the fact that the fight against these vices is not only for individuals but also for institutions like the Police.
When a case is handled in this manner, the fight for the protection of the girl-child suffers a setback. Girls look up to those in authority for protection and if it does not come from them, victory is far from sight.
Cases of defilement and GBV are on the increase and this is discouraging to those that want to see them come down. The fight is not only for organisations like the Young Women Christian Association (YWCA), the Non- Governmental Organisations Co-ordination Council (NGOCC) or the Women’s Lobby.
Children, wherever they are, need to be protected. They depend on their parents, teachers, headteachers, the police and the community as a whole to ensure their safety. Any opportunity to fight against the abuse of children should not be mishandled. Treating these cases lightly gives the aggressor an opportunity to be on the rampage.
The courts have always made it clear that they do not condone cases of defilement. They treat these cases with severity. The onus is on parents, the police, teachers and head teachers to do their part.

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