‘Rampant’ child sex abuse turns Bangladeshi Madrasas into rape-dens

sexual abuse in Madrasha in Bangladesh

Ain O Salish Kendro (ASK) says, at least 21 students were tortured and raped by their teacher or other person associated with the madrasas in the first three months of 2021

Shafiqul Islam | Chennai

Child sex abuse by teachers and priests in madrassas (Islamic schools) has become a “rampant phenomenon” in Bangladesh, a Muslim-majority nation, even though it is a punishable crime in the country.

According to the news reports, students, especially male students, are exposed to sexual exploitation in the Islamic educational institutions in Bangladesh.

According to Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF), a non-profit NGO in Bangladesh, 25 boys in the madrasa were raped by their teacher, principal, older pupils or other person associated with the madrasa in 2020, while 21 children were tortured in madrasas and safe homes in the first three months of 2021.

A significant number of boys are also being sexually abused or raped in madrassas besides girls. But the issue is not coming up in a very public discussion considering its religious background. A “culture of impunity” protects the culprits.

Perpetrators rather get motivated due to the lack of any “evident steps” taken by the government to stop the increasing number of rapes in madrassas. Also, as the government doesn’t have the actual data on it, the real picture of all this torture is going from unknown.

In most cases, after physical and sexual abuse, students do not express it due to shame and fear.

“This may be happened due to people’s blind faith in sensitive issues such as sex, juvenile delinquency and religion. Thus, sexual abuse of children in religious institutions has become the least-talked incidents”, says Dr. Helal Mohiuddin, professor of Political Science and Sociology at North South University in Bangladesh.

Dr. Mohiuddin, has been working on the issue of child abuse in madrassas since few years.

Articles 2, 6, 12 and 28 – specifically on article 28 (1A), 26 (1F) and 28 (2) – of the 1991 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, specify what kind of treatment should not be given to children at all.

“If they (laws) are being considered, no one including parents have the right to scold or rebuke the children loudly. Where there is no question of rape and sexual abuse at all. But the picture in Bangladesh is a bit different”, professor Mohiuddin added.

Reason behind the silence:

At least ten madrassa students were interviewed for the report, all of whom said, asking not to be named, they had been physically abused. While admitting that their acquaintances were sexually abused at the madrassa, they did not want to say whether they were also abused.

“Physical abuse is considered as an essential aspect in Madrasas. Many children are crippled by the beating. Since physical and mental injuries are allowed and there are no rules about how much can be hurt, how much cannot be hurt, the incidents are continuously increasing,” they said.

Professor Mohiuddin says, “Even after the brutal beating, the courage of those abusers continued to grow as the students and their parents were not complaining against them.”

“So, it inspires them (perpetrators) to go to the next stage – doing sexual violence against these students” he added.

Professor Mohiuddin also shed some light on the silent role of the parents of these abused students.

“The parents of these children are less educated. Their basic idea about education is that torture is part of education – everyone who has learned to read has gone through these experiences, then the new objection does not make sense,” he said.

Apart from that, financial problems are also a big reason behind not opening their mouth about torture.

Mohiuddin says, “They think that filing a case means police, harassment and, of course, a matter of money.”

Referring various news and social media reports, he said that students mostly are being sexually abused in residential madrassas. And most of them come from the backward sections of the society. Being unable to afford general education, many parents send their children to madrassas.

“Where they can’t afford the money for two meals a day, how will they get the money to file a case against them?” Mohiuddin added.

Sayma Khatun, associate professor of the Department of Anthropology at Jahangirnagar University, said, “there was not enough research on abused madrasa children. Strategies to combat such sexual harassment should be developed to better understand their situation and prevent it.”

What’s the Islamic Scholars’ stand?

Maulana Omar Ali, vice-principal of Jamia Islamia Islamabad Madrasa, said that these incidents are happening for several reasons.

“Those who are causing this incident do not have Islamic knowledge, as well as they do not understand the psychology of students. Besides, having too many students under a teacher in the safe houses puts pressure on their brain. As a result, beatings began with minor offenses, as the ability to endure is reduced,” he said.

“A monitoring cell can be set up so that there is room for accountability for unethical violations,” he suggested.

The law also has ambiguities:

There has also ambiguities among the police and lawyers about legal action and justice for the sexual abuse of children.

Dr. Shahnaz Huda, professor of the department Law at Dhaka University, said, referring the Article 375 of the Penal Code, that the way rape is defined in the law of Bangladesh makes it clear that the victim of rape can only be a ‘woman’, through a man. Naturally, therefore, many people involved in the judicial process understand rape as a conventional notion of normal sexual intercourse between men and women.

“In this case (child rape) when going to the law”, Dr. Huda says, “there are two principles in the case of justice.”

“If a girl child is abused, she can go to the Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunals. But here’s a vague explanation of what happens to a boy. There is ambiguity between the police and the lawyers” he said.

He said that in the case of male child sexual abuse, Article 377 of the Penal Code mentions an issue called ‘unnatural crime’, while it is not clear yet.

“There are also differences in punishment. Section 9 of the Prevention of Violence against Women and Children Act carries the maximum penalty of death, while section 377 of the Penal Code provides for the maximum penalty of life imprisonment and does not specify any minimum punishment,” he added.

“There should be an independent body in Madrassas so that the students can lodge their complaint. Also, there should be a separate tribunal to judge the sexual abuse of males,” Dr Huda suggests.

However, the Board of the Education of Madrassa haven’t denied these issues.

Maulana Muhammad Zubair, the director-general of the board, says, “we have received complaints and suggestions as well. Though no initiative has been taken yet, we are working on it.”