Concern and anxiety over safety of school-going girls have been heightened de novo. This follows Risa and Nitu having been knifed to death in broad daylight by their stalkers. The incidents taking place within 25 days of each other were untowardly representative. This, in the sense that, one occurred around a city school and the other near an upazila school.
In this context, Education Minister Nurul Islam Nahid reportedly said that news of armed attacks on girl students from remote rural areas to urban centres keep the guardians perturbed. Having put their daughters to an educational institute they remain anxiety-ridden until their wards come back home.
The minister added on a serious note that in such an aberrant atmosphere there have been instances of girls having dropped out of educational pursuits. This is a prospect that we must do everything in our power to avert fully and decisively.
The very cogent reasons why we need to do so are two-fold: First and foremost, can we be oblivious of the fact that among the socio-economic indicators putting us ahead of most of our South Asian neighbours is the increase in women's enrolment up to the higher secondary level. Some special efforts like free meal along with timely availability of cost-free text books will further beef up enrolment.
The second important consideration is imparting life skills to HSC leavers who form the critical mass of our citizenry, an agenda centred around functional literacy. Proficiency in basic arithmetic, reading, writing, filling in forms, art of seeking and absorbing information should be inculcated in the pupils aged 5-15 years.
Of course, women's enrolments in technical, professional, social science and humanities streams at the higher tiers too have been on the rise. And, connected with education is their vision for greater empowerment, gender equality and movement to decision-making positions.
The social costs do not end with daughters dropping out of any learning stream early in the day. The insecurity of growing up girls, more pronounced in families without an elder brother, especially in rural settings to protect his sister, has parents marry off their daughters before the right age. So the fight against child marriage which ruins the health of under-aged mothers through frequent pregnancies and may produce malnourished, even stunted children will have to be linked to continuing education up to an efficacious level - for the majority.
The Education Minister whilst sharing the concerns of the parents at a meeting in his ministry under the rubric "Imperatives to prevent eve-teasing in educational institutions", held that government's effective steps have reduced the incidence of violence against girl students significantly.
According to the statistics of Bangladesh Mohila Parishad based on reports from 14 national newspapers, 362 women and children fell victim to brutality last year. Out of them, 22 reportedly committed suicide. From January to August this year, the figures are 181 and five respectively.
It goes without saying that speedy trials and handing out of exemplary punishment to the rouges can only have the desired deterrent effect on sexual harassment. But this remains elusive. Even if the existing laws were applied vigorously the scourge could have been checkmated. In that sense the job is cut out for the law-enforcers, prosecutors and the rest having to do with the criminal justice system.
Now take the cases of Risa and Nitu, it was good to note that the public caught up with the perpetrators on the heels of the crimes and handed them over to the police. While that is a big positive in proceeding vigorously on the cases, we do think, however, that the community or the families have a much larger role to play in the prevention of what is basically a social crime.
There have been earlier warnings of an impending blow-out that could be headed off if the community, or, more precisely, the family had acted preemptively. So far as Risa's case goes, the harassed daughter had reported the stalking to her mother. But her mother kept from conveying it to her spouse lest the father were tensed up. In respect of Nitu, her private tutor had been pestering her for sometime and on August 05 finding her alone in the house beat her up. Actually, Nitu's father brought up the issue with the tutor's family but to little avail.
Thus sensitisation at the family and community levels coupled with formation of composite, representative localised committees to act as oversight bodies could make for an effective and doable preventative work plan.