Dubai, UAE: The alleged sexual assault of a four-year-old Dubai girl on her school bus has brought to light a number of other cases indicating that the occurrence is not uncommon in the UAE’s schools.
A number of people have come forward saying they or their children too were subjected to similar cases of molestation in and around schools. Most said they had not considered coming forward with the case earlier but were encouraged after learning about the four-year-old girl, as well as to warn others.
“I am unfortunately one of those girls who have gone through this phase in my childhood and can definitely understand the plight of that little kid,” said Nausheen, speaking about her experience for the first time in her life.
“It is one of the dark sides of my life… I have never discussed this with anyone, not even my parents,” she said. “Even after years passing by I have not forgotten the incident and every such incident puts my thoughts into the end of the world”.
“I used the school transport and was the last one dropped. Immediately as the bus would drop the second last student, the bus conductor would come and sit next to me and molest me in ways I can’t describe. It was not rape — by the grace of Allah I was saved from it, but I went through it every day,” she said.
“I started bunking school almost every day telling my parents that I was sick. My parents were so engrossed with work that they could not make out I was doing it. Later when I joined back forcefully by my parents I did not see that conductor around. The torture I went through would never let my mind be in peace,” she said.
While Nausheen has moved past the phase, she said she wished she had known how to tackle such problems when she was younger.
Nausheen believes it is imperative for parents to teach their children self defence, and for them to speak to their children about the dangers of molestation, despite the taboos associated with the topic.
“I have faced a much milder but traumatising experience myself,” said Farzana, a girl from a school in Abu Dhabi. “As I was walking home from the bus late evening I noticed an old man walking ahead of me continuously turning back to look at me… as I turned he stood near me and unzipped his fly and flashed [his genitals]. I fled to my home,” she said.
Anushka, a grade 11 student said she knew of “many other cases where bus drivers and conductors have sexually abused a girl and it has not been heard by anyone”.
“It is a shame that even though there are many cases that have occurred we haven’t been able to hear about them. Maybe if we would have heard about them earlier steps would have been taken much earlier and many such cases wouldn’t have taken place,” she said, adding that news about the girl’s case has created awareness among schoolgirls, who would learn to take precautionary measures.
School pupils who spoke to Gulf News said that they regularly see bus conductors giving female students flirtatious glances. “Staring is common,” said Geeta, a high school pupil. “Some girls tell them off but others just keep their heads down in the bus. One driver we had would often stop the bus to stare at women in the street.”
Geeta said she and her friends would brush off the stares as a harmless nuisance, but said she felt compelled to speak out about it upon hearing about the alleged four-year-old victim of rape.
Mahmoud, an Indian father of a five-year-old girl, said when his daughter initially complained about a strange man harassing her on her walk back from an Arabic class at a mosque, he did not take it seriously, thinking that she might have been irritated at one of the neighbours.
“It was only after the second time it occurred when she described to me how the man had unzipped his pants and tried to touch her that I realised how serious the situation was,” he said.
Divya, a psychologist, says sexual assault victims should be given unconditional love. A mother of a five year old, she cam empathise with the parents of children who have been sexually assaulted, as her own daughter had a similar experience in her school bus.
When Divya read about the trauma of the four-year-old she “relived” what she went through in 2008.
“My daughter was five years old then and went to school in Karama. She was subjected to constant sexual bullying by older boys of about 11 or 12 year in her school bus.”
“She would come home with dirty messages written on her belongings and they would also show her inappropriate gestures. She would innocently ask me what it meant.”
“If there are physical scars heal them through cosmetic surgery and heal the psychological scars through a good counsellor, for the child and family,” she suggests.
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing) therapy is very effective for rape or sexual assault victims, she advised. It is a form of psychotherapy that helps resolve symptoms from unresolved life experiences.
“Give the child VIP treatment at all times and treat her as a special child to help her grow up to be a normal and successful person,” she said.
Having a clean record and being married are some of the mandatory regulations for bus drivers issued by Emirates Transport.
“Qualified bus drivers should have a clean record, be between the ages of 25 to 45, have some knowledge about the country’s customs and traditions, and speak both Arabic and English,” said Jasem Al Shair, Director of School Services Centre at Emirates Transport.
Emirates Transport is responsible for providing transportation, bus drivers and bus attendants for 717 government schools in the country and provide transportation for 205,000 students in the UAE. ET governs over 3,392 bus drivers and over 2,286 bus attendants in all seven emirates, with most of the bus attendants are female.
“Male bus attendants usually supervise male students in middle and high school. KG and primary school children are supervised by only female attendants,” said Al Shair.
Emirates Transport has never received a complaint of harassment or illegal behaviour toward students from one of its bus drivers or attendants while on duty.
“Moral violations usually lead to immediate expulsion,” said Al Shair. “Fortunately we haven’t received any complaints about our bus drivers or attendants committing moral violations or harassment of students while on duty,”
Qualifications to hire bus attendants are even more stringent as described by Emirates Transport representative.
“All bus attendants for KG students and children from grade one to three are female and mothers,” said Al Shair, “they have a big role in organising students. There is also strict supervision on them such as weekly reports from the school administration and annual assessment.”
Note: names have been changed in this article to protect the identity of the interviewees
© GulfnewsFeb 2011