Fr Carlos Luis SAC
I am eternally grateful for the good teachers we have had and continue to have. There are those who put in extra effort to make classes interesting and memorable. And there are those who want us to have transformative life experiences.
Unfortunately, there are also those who are sexual predators. The recent incident of a teacher being accused of molesting a girl in a hostel in Canacona sent a chill down my spine.
Incidences of harassment, abuse, molestation and assault have regrettably destroyed the lives of student victims, sometimes even leading them to take the drastic step of taking their own lives.
Leaving all of us in a cold sweat is the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report that shows an increased registration of crimes against children as of 2021. About 1,49,404 cases out of which 53,874 were under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO).
The POCSO Act was designed to protect children from sexual offences like assault, harassment and pornographic offences. It is also supposed to ensure the dignified upbringing of children.
Perhaps, the presence of an act such as this ensures a friendly procedure for children to record evidence, investigate cautiously and prosecute offences by establishing special courts that will ensure accelerated case trials.
Nevertheless, despite the stringent punishment ranging from 20 years imprisonment to the death penalty, cases are not on the decline. More offenders on the prowl and, to top it all, some victims fail to report their traumatic episodes.
Research suggests that predators are more often than not those known to the victim. Therefore, it becomes crucial for parents to take note of how much unauthorised time their children spend with their teachers.
Unless and until there is a dire need, a student should not spend time alone with their teacher. The ethics of the student-teacher relationship should be maintained inside and outside the classroom.
Every student in recent times has a mobile or a laptop. This has led to a growing trend of cyber-crimes. If adolescents can succumb to threats like trafficking, sexual violence or kidnapping, there is an easy chance that a child can easily be a victim, despite the POCSO Act in place.
Parents should keep a watch on their children, and if anything unusual is noticed, should take the required measures. The predators make advances towards the potential victim, gaining the confidence of the child by validating him/her through gifts and compliments.
Predators usually try to blend in and behave as if they are interested in the beneficial growth of students. Students who are being groomed by predatory teachers will display certain typical behaviours of which their caretakers must be made aware.
Students need to be made aware of situations where they can be preyed upon and what grooming looks like. These discussions must be made mandatory in this day and age.
Educational institutions must invest time and resources into creating committees to educate parents and guardians, and safeguard children. It would not be uncommon to find institutions that want to protect their image and hold back on reporting the misconduct of their faculty.
They either without much fuss try to sack the faculty or simply issue a warning. This then leaves ample opportunity for further misbehaviour along the way.
A better solution to avoid such perverse behaviour is to make the rules of the institute clear to the educator. Then, the enforcement of these rules should also take place. Constant reminders of these rules is also important.
Teachers are human, and they can make mistakes, undoubtedly.
But when they have taken the responsibility of being teachers, their first responsibility is towards their students and the students’ protection from any sort of abuse.
It is one thing to know that there are predators around, and it is another to accept that there can be the possibility of the predator being one among our colleagues. Before we realise it, we are in denial or are trying to minimise deviant behaviour.
It is good to address such behaviours head-on. When an institution takes the utmost care to impart training to its employees about the need for child safety and protection, it can create a secure environment for students.
India outranks the United Kingdom, Sweden and Australia on the performance of the POCSO Act. But the question is whether we will be able to tackle the lurking teacher predator issue.
“Teaching is a sacred profession,” said Stephen Sondheim. Let us try to maintain its sanctity.
(The writer is a priest belonging to the Society of the Catholic Apostolate (Pallottine) and currently the mission secretary of the ABVM Province, Bangalore. He comments on literature and films that mirror life.)