Elite private school in Lahore rocked by harassment scandal

The recent events reported from a school in Lahore contain very disturbing facts with sordid details which regrettably demonstrate that the menace of child abuse and sexual harassment has permeated our private schools.

Elite Private school

This article discusses the recent cases of child abuse at an elite private school at Lahore. The author has suggested some precautionary measures to fight the menace of sexual abuse of minors, especially in educational institutions.

Young Zainab’s death jolted the entire country. Gradually, like all tragedies, grief and disbelief turned into an outrage. Fervent calls were made for the public hanging of the killer. After a speedy trial, the killer was hanged but we still yearn for closure. Why?

We know that Zainab was not the last victim. We know that the ravenous human savagery will continue to claim more victims. We know our children are not safe.

Zainab and many others were ruthlessly taken away by the beasts that roam freely within our society. We cannot stop them from devouring more precious lives. Our children from Kasur were molested and sexually exploited. We could not bring the culprits to justice. Thousands of young kids, especially girls are sexually abused every year.

We have no support program to console and support such children. The whole society is either indifferent or helpless. The judicial system does not offer any form of deterrence. We have gathered statistical data and numbers to show the prevalence of this predatory behavior but there is no research on how to put an end to it. We have offered the advancing predator easy prey.

Harassment prevalent in elite, private schools

In search of new victims, the insatiable predator is on the move again. He is breathing the same air but is invisible to our eyes. He is quietly sensing the scent of his new victims. He is around us but his charm, amicable smile and reassuring gestures shield all our suspicion. Our self-created distractions are his most potent weapon and our child’s innocence is his prized trophy. Casually, camouflaging his real intentions, he is stalking his next prey.

This time the monster has revealed itself inside an elite private school in Lahore.

The recent events reported at Lahore Grammar School, 1-A/1, Gulberg, Lahore contain very disturbing facts with sordid details which regrettably demonstrate that the menace of child abuse and sexual harassment has permeated our private schools. Once thought to be secure, private schools apparently are fast becoming hunting grounds for the merciless paedophiles. More shocking details are coming in.

Astonishingly, the harassers in this case are all employees of Lahore Grammar School, 1-A/1, Gulberg, Lahore, an elite educational institution. These employees include Aitzaz Sheikh, an A Level teacher, Zahid Warriach, another faculty member, Umer Sharif and Shahzad Irshad. This school was entrusted with the security, welfare and well-being of its students. However, the school was more concerned with minting money, saving its repute and prestige that it completely ignored the safety and interests of children.

Read more: This movie will remind you of the tragedy of little Zainab

These loathsome cunning paedophiles used their influence as teachers and tattered to pieces, the trust and faith reposed in them by their students as well as the parents. Initial reports show that these Lahore Grammar School, 1-A/1, Gulberg, Lahore, employees have sexually, emotionally and physically exploited many young girl students, leaving them psychologically bruised for the rest of their lives.

Obviously, it took some time for the brave young girls to come out in the open and expose Aitizaz Sheikh and his accomplices. But that is not the issue here. We must rise above the medieval social norms and applaud our young daring heroes for defying all odds. They have brought to the light the truth at their expense so that others may not suffer. We salute them for this selfless, noble and gallant act.

 

We must at the same time condemn the administration of Lahore Grammar School, 1-A/1, Gulberg, Lahore, for their reprehensible silence. It has been reported that the sexually abusive behavior of Aitzaz Sheikh and his accomplices was brought to the knowledge of the Lahore Grammar School’s administration but they were callously indifferent about the whole episode.

Schools should be maintained as “safe areas”

This is an alarming revelation. This is criminal negligence. In legal parlance, it is abetment by implication which carries the same sentence as the main offence. Reportedly, Lahore Grammar School, 1-A/1, Gulberg, rose from its slumber and terminated the services of Aitzaz Sheikh and others when the abused girls had taken to the social media to air their stories. The principal Mrs Shakil, administrator Maira Umair Rana and coordinator Rubab Hassan have also been suspended pending inquiry. This is too little too late.

If found guilty, the Lahore Grammar School, 1-A/1, Gulberg, Lahore, must be deregistered and all those persons/employees/teachers/principal, who had knowledge about the ongoing acts of sexual abuse must be punished to meet the ends of justice. The severity of this human bestiality demands that all the perpetrators and their accomplices and all those who preferred silence in their wisdom to the detriment of young girls’ lives and futures, must face the heavy hand of the law.

Read more: Should Zainab’s murderer be hanged publicly?

In times like these it is difficult to maintain passive neutrality. People must come forward and express solidarity with the victims. More importantly, the experts must offer research-based guidance to avert such incidents in the future.

We have to adopt a multipronged approach to curb this menace. I have given some suggestions in the following paragraphs and would sincerely urge the readers to contribute their advice too.

Necessary steps that need to be taken urgently by private schools

Psychological Profiling of the Paedophile:

It is imperative that experts must sketch a psychological profile of these paedophiles. They should be interrogated by law enforcement agencies as well as interviewed by criminal psychologists.

Their behavior patterns, their backgrounds, childhood experiences, and sexual preferences must be explored deeply by professionals to find or map their progression into pedophilic tendencies.

Their families must be involved too for developing a better understanding of their character. This case study will help in developing an understanding about how paedophiles behave and act and once we gather valuable information in this regard we can erect some firewalls to prevent them from entering the systems.

Restricting Entrance of Paedophile into the School System:

Presently, private schools do not have any means to check the infiltration of a paedophile in their education system. Frankly these private schools are not interested. There are no psychological evaluations or assessments of teachers at the time of their induction into the system.

There are no background checks or reference verifications. It is strongly advocated that all schools must have in place a proper psychologist who should interview fresh persons seeking employment. This should not be a one-time exercise but must be repeated occasionally even after a person is employed so that there is constant uninterrupted monitoring.

Read more: Telefilm on Zainab rape case to air soon

Constituting Committee under the Protection Against Harassment of Women At Workplace Act, 2010:

Under the provisions of the above law, a private school is required to constitute a permanent internal committee to address issues of sexual harassment. Most schools do not have such committees and even if they do it is merely a paper exercise.

The private schools must forthwith constitute these committees and empower them to deal with issues of sexual harassment as well as developing standards and best practices for tackling cases of child abuse.

Counseling Students on Improper Behavior – Zero Tolerance Policy:

The private schools must hold regular counseling and conduct open programs to educate the students of all ages about improper behavior and conduct. The teachers too must be educated about their role and duties and what is expected and not expected from them. Zero tolerance policy for improper behavior must be adopted and practiced.

Such matters must not be taken lightly or brushed under the carpet. School administration must stand with the students and afford them a comfortable environment so that they could express themselves. Students must be encouraged and not reprimanded for bringing forth their grievances and immediate redress should be granted to them while assuring confidentiality and ensuring accountability.

The schools must also impart education to students on cyber crimes like stalking, enticement for sexual favours, intimidation or blackmailing using digital communication networks, stealing, sharing or unauthorised use of personal data or information, sharing of obscene and vulgar images or messages and for this purpose experts should be invited to address the students. This awareness will strengthen the ability of young students to understand and combat paedophilic behaviour.

Maintaining Social Distance:

This is probably the most crucial aspect. It is common practice that students and teachers mingle freely outside the school premises. This can be a solicited, unsolicited or arranged interaction. Remember before age of majority our children cannot decide such matters on their own and parental permission is absolutely necessary.

Unwanted legal consequences may flow from such free interaction especially for teachers. One on one contact of teachers with their students outside the school premises or after school timings must either be monitored/regulated or prohibited.

Sharing of personal information either by the students or the teachers must be discouraged. Private schools can make use of the digital applications to make official portals where students and teachers can interact with each other under the watchful eyes of the school administration.

Parental Counseling:

Parents must learn to respect their children. Listening to them is important too. It is highly recommended that cell phone use by our children must not be left unsupervised. We must know who is in contact with our child.

We must keep a close watch on their behavior to see if something is disturbing them. Their silence, lack of interest, anger, self-isolation, diminishing confidence and emotional outbursts must not be taken lightly. Parents must take time out to discuss school issues with their children.

It is advisable that parents must form physical or online groups to have a meaningful interaction amongst them so that any improper incidence at school does not go unnoticed. This will help in monitoring the school activities as well. Private schools must introduce open online portals where parents are allowed to have access to the school administration. This is a healthy trend that must be enforced forthwith.

Identifying the Hotspots:

A child is vulnerable. He/she is unsure and naïve. He has the tendency to lend his trust without questioning. A clever paedophile will easily lure a child with affection, gain his attention, earn his confidence, and then act when the time is right. Paedophiles like other predators are patient and plan their strike meticulously.

Young students on the other hand are aspiring to excel and bring upon themselves an unnecessary burden. This pressure at times makes them an easy target. A promise of high grades will push students to accept improper behavior. Peer pressure also plays a significant role. An emotionally compromised child struggling with grades is what the pedophile is looking for.

Paedophiles like to operate under a well-guarded persona. They demonstrate normal mannerisms offsetting any suspicion. All these are hotspots and must be identified and flagged immediately. Teachers’ control over the grades and academic advancement of a child must be monitored by the school administration closely and any unexpected appraisal of grades must be addressed without delay.

Administration of Justice:

I would like to appeal to the Chief Justices of all courts to kindly look at the gravity of the situation. Things are getting out of control. These are your children too. A suo moto notice must be taken of this latest incident and the report must be called from the private school regulators as well as the private school owners in devising a zero-tolerance legal framework to arrest the growth of child abuse in private schools.

In this regard, behavioral experts must be taken on board for their input and opinion. This exercise must be undertaken at the earliest. It is also a need of the hour to establish and maintain an official register with names of convicted paedophile offenders so that the institutions and general public remain informed about such persons.

The above-named paedophiles are a threat to society in general and the children in particular. If they are allowed to get away with their sexual misdeeds, many more minor children will fall victim to their lustful ways. Taking appropriate strict legal action against them along with their behavior profiling is the only way to save other innocent lives. We owe this responsibility to our children.

Faisal Zaman is a lawyer with more than 25 years of professional experience. His main areas of interest include social, legal and political discourse in Pakistan as well as past & emerging global trend. Faisal Zaman can be contacted at faisalzamanadv@gmail.com. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space. 

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