#MeToo cases in Lahore school: Students who spoke up being threatened, intimidated

Teachers and staff members named in the #MeToo cases at Lahore private school out on pre-arrest bails

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Child Protection & Welfare Bureau (CP&WB) Chairperson Sarah Ahmad said the young women who spoke up about the maltreatment and sexual harassment, on the other hand, said they were persistently being blackmailed, sent threats, and facing intimidation tactics. AFP/Files

LAHORE: Students who spoke up about sexual misconduct at the girls' branch of a reputed private school in the provincial capital have reported being threatened and intimidated after incidents of sexual harassment came to the fore last month.

Child Protection & Welfare Bureau (CP&WB) Chairperson Sarah Ahmad said Monday the police have added arbitrary provisions to the petition filed against the sexual misconduct at the private school in Lahore. The weak clauses added to the first information reports (FIRs), she added, were the reason the accused could not be arrested.

Ahmad explained that the teachers and staff members who were named in the case of sexual harassment have obtained pre-arrest bails and have been out since.

The young women who spoke up about the maltreatment and sexual harassment, on the other hand, said they were persistently being blackmailed, sent threats, and facing intimidation tactics, she underlined.

Some of the women are unable to file their applications despite assurances of security being provided to them, the official added. She further said the safety requests were not being fulfilled.

Also read: Punjab govt ponders new sexual misconduct law for private institutions

Last month, four employees of a private school in Lahore, including a teacher, were sacked by the administration after they were found guilty by the school of sexually harassing women students.

Numerous students had alleged that they were being harassed since 2016 but had decided to report the incidents to the management after it became unbearable.

According to the school's administration, the four individuals against whom the complaint was lodged included a chemistry teacher Zahid Warraich, an administrative officer Aitzaz, an accountant Omar, and a security guard named Shehzad.

The students had also revealed that Warraich, the chemistry teacher, used to harass them by staring and trying to touch them inappropriately. They said he had tried to sit with them in a manner that made it very uncomfortable for the students to study.

The young women had also spoken of a female teacher in the school who told them about how she was also a victim of harassment by one of the staff members at the institute but instead of taking action against the harassers, she told the young women to remain silent.

Punjab mulls new sexual misconduct law

Earlier this month, Punjab Education Minister Dr Murad Raas had said the provincial government would bring a new act for private institutions after incidents of sexual harassment at the provincial capital's schools came to the fore.

Dr Raas had acknowledged that the students who reported sexual harassment had gone through considerable mental anguish. They wept while narrating what had happened to them, he had said, adding that he spoke to about 20 to 25 of them.

However, he said it was necessary for the students to register written complaints "without which action cannot be taken".

Also read: Three, including principal, administrator, suspended over Lahore school harassment cases

"We are going to bring a new act for private schools [and] we are adding legislation on harassment to our laws," the Punjab minister had said, adding that the government could only help people when written requests were submitted.

"Private girls' schools should not have male teachers," Dr Raas had stressed at the time, adding that incidents of sexual harassment had also been reported in boys' schools.

The minister had underlined that the Punjab government was forming a committee to look into such issues. "If anyone is found to be responsible, they will be fined and jailed," he had stated.

Three-member committee formed

In pursuance of the complaint lodged against the incident, the District Education Authority (DEA) had formed a three-member committee, comprising educationists and government officers, to probe the string of sexual harassment cases.

The authority had directed the committee to submit the findings along with "clear-cut recommendations" within three days to decide the future course of action regarding the reported incident.

It had also announced its decision to expand the scope of the investigation, resolving to interview all students enrolled in Ordinary and Advanced Levels — O' and A' Levels — in the private school's girls branch.

In a letter to the school administration, the committee had requested all students, as well as the teachers and other staff who were suspended or fired, be called to the campus. It had also asked for the contact numbers of the students and the accused individuals.

Promises of making example out of perpetrators

Earlier, the spokesperson for the government of Punjab, Musarrat Cheema had said the provincial leadership would hand out exemplary punishments to the perpetrators.

Speaking to Geo Pakistan, Cheema had said the government had taken action against the harassment case reported in the private school. She, however, emphasised that the government would come to know about such incidents only when they are reported as Punjab has a population of 110 million; therefore, it was impossible for the government to know about every case of sexual harassment.

Cheema had said that as soon as the girls spoke up, the school administration took action, while the Punjab education minister and the chief minister took notice as well. She added that an inquiry committee has also been formed to investigate the incident.

“I appeal to all children that god forbid if you go through something like this, then you need to point it out as currently there are a lot of harassment laws under which the culprits can be punished,” Cheema said.