UNICEF has issued a statement after the alleged sexual assault of two teenage girls at a Mukdahan school by their teachers and the school’s former students was reported in the media last week, raising concern about the lack of protection for children in schools and calling for the authorities involved to reinforce their efforts to ensure prevention of violence in schools and to ensure that the survivors are protected.
UNICEF has serious concerns about the alleged repeated rape of two girls, aged 14 and 16, allegedly with the involvement of their teachers and former students from a public school in Mukdahan Province. This shocking alleged case represents a notable failure to protect children and is a strong wake-up call that more action must be taken to strengthen protection of children in schools.
No child should suffer from any form of violence, anywhere. Schools, in particular, must be safe havens for children. Every child deserves to be safe and secure in school so that they can learn, grow and develop the skills and confidence they need to lead healthy and prosperous lives.
One of the fundamental duties and core obligations of the education institutions, including school personnel, is to protect children who are in their care. Teachers and other education personnel must play a frontline role in closely observing children, watching for signs of violence, abuse and neglect and reporting it when they have concerns. Teachers also have a critical role of preventing harm to children while in their care, including from school staff members.
UNICEF commends the action by the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, Ministry of Justice and the Royal Thai Police in moving forward decisively on this case and trust that the process will follow its course with extremely strong response to such a grave assault on children. UNICEF will continue to monitor developments in this case.
The education sector has an important role to play in preventing such incidents as part of national coordinated systems for child protection. The Ministry of Education should consider a review of the effectiveness of its protection measures, monitoring mechanisms, and response protocols. The review, in partnership with professional bodies such as the Teachers’ Council of Thailand, can also help in strengthening the code of conduct for teachers and other education staff, further ensure these codes are effectively implemented, and appropriate sanctions applied in cases of violation.
Confidential reporting channels linked to action must be established and staff and students alike must know how to use them. Schools should have clear referral pathways to social welfare agencies and work with multidisciplinary teams to provide support to survivors of violence and abuse.
The Ministry of Education, teacher organizations, schools themselves, and teacher training colleges must reinforce their efforts to ensure prevention of violence in schools. They should commit to creating schools as a place of hope and opportunity, where children are safe to learn. Teacher training curriculums and professional development opportunities should include regular and mandatory trainings about the causes of school-related violence and abuse, possible prevention activities, referral and response frameworks and ethical personal conduct.
Caring for the children
As important as reforming the system is making sure that child survivors of abuse make their way back on the path to realize their full potential in a supportive environment. Being a victim of violence in childhood can have lifelong negative impacts on education, health, and well-being. Exposure to violence negatively affects the cognitive, emotional, and social aspects of the child’s development and can lead to educational underachievement. But with support, children can recover to lead normal lives.
Social workers, psychologists, and medical personnel play a key role in the children’s recovery. Thailand should invest further in expanding its social service workforce, including on child protection, so that victims of violence, exploitation, abuse and neglect can be supported and cases are detected early before they become tragedies like the one in Mukdahan.
UNICEF calls on everyone concerned to ensure that children who are survivors of all forms of violence are protected, and that all action taken be in their best interests.
The role of the media in protecting children
The media must also protect children’s rights, their dignity and privacy. They must ensure that the news-making process and news reports are conducted in the best interest of the child and do not inflict further harm to the child. UNICEF asks all media personnel not dig further into the specific personal circumstances of the girls but protect their identity and prevent creating social divide on the case. This type of attention could prove disastrous to the girls’ efforts to move on later and the media would bear a strong responsibility in such respects. UNICEF also asks the wider public to do the same and play its role in protecting the girls.
UNICEF trusts that the justice system will do its part to shield these children from any negative consequences of proceeding with the case. Fortunately, Thailand has strong measures to protect child victims and witnesses.
These very serious allegations remind us all that we must rush to establish robust child protection systems in schools, in social welfare, in the justice system, and within the community itself.
UNICEF will continue supporting the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, Ministry of Justice, and Ministry of Public Health, among other agencies, to strengthen the child protection alert and response systems at all levels so that no more children fall victim of violence.