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LGS Sexual Harassment Case — Attempts At Coverup Must Be Thwarted

Fauzia Yazdani discuses the state’s obliviousness to the rampant child abuse in Pakistani society. She looks at the recent harassment cases at LGS in this article and the government’s inability to hold the powerful school owners accountable.

The reported case of continued and years-long harassment at Lahore Grammar School (LGS1a1) has violated the privacy and dignity of underage girls and boys at so many levels. It has scared their personality; it has scarred their mind and behaviours towards supposed relation of respect outside the family, their future intimate relations, and above all their own trust of judgement that allowed themselves to be wronged. Now slowly read the last line again, imagine it to be your child and feel. Did you feel that shudder?  Those girls and their families are going through 100s of times more than it. The trauma may leave us but for them, it will be part of their remaining lives. That’s why this act is heinous at so many levels.

I just cannot stop appreciating and respecting the girls of LGS1a1 that came out and raised their voice. Compared to my generation these girls had digital means to raise the voice and be a collective and more importantly they knew the term “harassment’. Social media can be blamed for many wrongs but it has been critical in raising the issues which have false binaries of honour and shame especially for girls and women. The digital space connected them to be collective to pull the curtain from the face of such predators called teachers and such elitist institutions.

Ideally, post the issue going viral, the state should have taken control and acted as the proverbial mother as it’s supposed to be. The Government of Punjab comes into action; the minister for education takes a tough stance and launches a probe. The inquiry comprises of a Grade 18/19 teaching staff of a government education institution. This in itself was first intended/unintended weak action on the part of the Department of Education, Punjab.

Why?

For the reason that those teachers who were part of the constituted committee were representative of a different world of an educational system representing not only a social class but teaching divide. Secondly, were these committee members technically equipped or skilled to investigate a sensitive issue like that? Had they ever done it before? My educated guess is no, so what was expected out of them? Third, the school management is part of power elites, of private school, and would have never considered this committee to be of any consequential value – a mere grade BPS 18/19 school teachers. The result was obvious they inquiry committee faced non-cooperation of school on all counts and reported the same. The government lost round-1, despite the good intentions of the education minister.

The Punjab Child Protection Welfare Bureau (CPWB) chairperson, again a well-intended person, took three days to register FIR,  which was eventually filed on July 4. The FIR is filed under PPC sections 500, 501, 509, and Telegraph Act 1885 section-25. The PPC-500 refers to punishment for defamation; PPC-501 refers to printing or engraving matter known to be defamatory; PPC-509 refers to insulting modesty or causing sexual harassment.

This FIR is weak. Firstly, it doesn’t nominate the LGS management, and names individual predators only. Secondly, it does not invoke PPC sections 377-A and 377-B despite the fact that the crime of harassment has been committed on minors i.e. underage girls which is equivalent to Child Sexual Abuse (CSA). This is despite the fact that the FIR is filed by a child protection officer of the CPWB and its institutional legislation defines the child to be of under 18 years.

Thirdly, the Telegraph Act of 1885 is invoked in FIR but section 21 of the Pakistan Electronic Crime Act, 2016, and its other linked clauses of cybercrime laws, are ignored. These are critical ‘misses’ that will impact how this case is treated. So, Round-2 is also lost by the government despite the good intentions of the chairperson.

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Let’s have a quick look at the language of FIR. It is a statement by the child protection officer of the CPWB. The FIR has been filed without proper homework. Let me show you how: firstly, it says that ‘’students appear to be minor” – most of the O & A level students are under 18, why did CPWB ignore fact check? Secondly, FIR states “allegation per se are very serious” – why per-se? shouldn’t it have said that the evidence available on social media, as seen by CPWB, is evidence enough which clearly indicates that modesty of female students has been violated; hence the premise of this FIR. Didn’t the officer see the semi-nudes of the predator? Thirdly, in FIR it prays that law should come into action ‘to protect children from such harassment/sexual abuse in future’. Now in the line above the statement says they ‘appear to be minor’ and by the end they are ‘children’; so if they are children or even appear to be minor then why no clause of Child Sexual Abuse has been requested to be applied by the CPWB?

It demonstrates the technical weakness of the CPWB staff to comprehend and pursue such a subject despite being administrative support to the Child Courts. Ideally, the Department of Education should have been the joint filer of the FIR as both CPWB and Ministry of Education announced they were working closely on it. So who is walking the talk? A Child Protection Officer or no one?  Round-3 again lost by the government.

Provincially, there is no dedicated government department that has ‘child’ as an exclusive domain; rather parts of Child Right are distributed among departments like education health, human rights, and social welfare. For government, the policy focus is more on Child Welfare than Child Protection which is a huge caveat in itself. There are few more department of the government that should have been active on this issue in pursuit of their mandate but are conspicuously missing – i.e.

 

  1. Department of Human Rights. The Government of Punjab’s Human Rights policy 2018 commits to ‘protect children from all forms of violence and abuses, including but not limited to, harm; neglect; stigma; discrimination……or any other activity that takes undue advantage of them, or harms their personhood or affects their development’. It also commits to ensuring ‘safe environment for all children, to reduce their vulnerability in all situations and keep them safe at all places, especially public spaces’. And most importantly it commits to ‘institutionalise effective mechanisms for recording and managing data related to child sex offenders and limiting employment opportunities of such offenders that involve dealing with children’. So have anyone seen them in play – No.

 

  1. Under the ombudsperson office in Punjab, there is an Office of Provincial Commissioner for Children. This office is watch-eye for child protection issues and has the mandate to raise awareness on child rights violations. It has a helpline 1050 for children’s compliant. Has anyone heard from them during this issue? No.

 

  1. There is also an ombudsperson for the protection of sexual harassment of women in Punjab. As some of the girls may be over 18 years of age, it should have come into action. It’s headed by a serving government officer. Have we heard a squeak form them? No; of course they are waiting for complaint.

What good are these departments if they cant spring into action and have to sit and wait for a complaint even in such a sensitive situation? Round-4 also lost by the government as it takes the blow unprepared.

Federally, there is a National Commission on Child Rights as approved by the Cabinet but yet to be constituted for reasons best known. Have we heard from the federal minister for education or human rights or prime minister on the issue? Have we heard from Child Rights Committee under the SDG taskforce of the National Assembly and similar parliamentary committee at the provincial level. There is an MNA and MPA of the constituency where LGS1a1 is situated – have we heard form them? Have we heard from religious stakeholders? A deafening no.  Well, there is reason enough that education is a provincial subject but does the federal government have no obligation towards its children as stated in Article 31, 33, 34 and 35 of the constitution? Would they speak if it happens in Islamabad or maybe in Sindh?  Imagine a policy statement or order by the prime minister on the issue and its impact.

 

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Let it not be forgotten that by national and international legal definitions #LGS1a1 ‘are minors’ and any such sexually nuanced advance towards them are a punishable crime. It’s not sexual harassment alone as girls being underage makes it a case of Child Sexual Abuse. Power structures and dynamics have smoothly operated in this case as well.  Power-elite of private school mafia prevailed to take it out of the realm of Child Sexual Abuse making it an individual act than institutional shortcoming which conveniently is absolved; alleged predators are shamed but the institution that let them prevail and let go without impunity also goes scot-free.

 

The advertisement by the LGS administration in the newspaper today is a read in itself which disgusts me more than being surprised. Its titles ‘LGS announcement’ and following out of it demands attention:

 

  1. ‘LGS is an institution founded by Pakistani women’
  2. ‘The recent accusation at one of our branches have shaken is to the core’
  3. ‘The staff members implicated and members of the administration who failed to listen have been terminated’
  4. ‘LGS is all about teaching its students to use their voice to create a better world’
  5. ‘formation of an inquiry committee to look into the allegation of harassment’

 

First, it’s titled as ‘LGS announcement’ than ‘LGS Apologies’ – the whole announcement does not even have a word of apology or any reference to it. The high headedness of administration and deliberate act of omission by the school has led to psychosocial trauma for girls and families – shouldn’t they be apologetic about it?

Secondly, as misused by many more sections of the society LGS also conveniently throws in a women card i.e. it’s founded by women so women know it all, it’s a women’s thing, leave it to us. Really! If LGS was so conscientiously sensitive to women issues, its management and teachers would have smelt the first whiff; and would not have waited for it to rot and smell for school’s conscience to wake-up from slumber. Thirdly, ‘LGS is shaken to the core’ – oh wow and while they were shaken to the core they refused to cooperate with the government inquiry; terminated predators without any investigation or impunity or even mention of the reason on their termination letter. Fourthly, they have listened to the students and formed a committee to look into allegation; how can LGS self-investigate themselves and that too now? The whole announcement reeks from elitist entitlements that corrode our society at large and such private schools represent the tip of that iceberg.

Governance and institutional decay have been appalling in our country and we have learned to live with it. When will we learn to even assume that it could be/is the fault of a boy/man? Why dress of girl/woman and her social background is the first to be judged in such situations whereas men are always ‘family-oriented’. When will we educate our adolescent boys and girls what is sexually appropriate and inappropriate behavior? When will the state lead as a protector and punish the predators? Time is really up for all of us as it is about our children. We are at the ridge of the cliff, do we want to fail our children or bounce back.

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