Period checks are not just sexual abuse. They are also about control, fear, shame and trust.
If a man gropes a schoolgirl’s chest and groin, there is no question about it. He will face charges of outraging the girl’s modesty and sexual abuse. But in the case of period checks, most of the perpetrators are female. What then?
The female teachers, wardens and seniors will still be guilty of outraging the girl’s modesty. So, are period checks a form of state-sanctioned sexual harassment? Freedom to grope the bodies of girls under the guise of “disciplining” them?
The children are subjected to sexual harassment, mental and verbal abuse, and shame if they do not respond positively to their teacher’s demands.
Most of us assumed that it was just Muslim girls who were, and are, affected, but girls and boys from all races and religions have come forward with stories about similar degrading treatment in public schools.
Reports in the last few days reveal that it is not just girls who were subjected to intimate checks. The genitals of boys were also groped by male teachers and wardens, to see if they were hiding mobile phones.
Period checks are performed, ostensibly to find out if a girl is menstruating, because Islam forbids menstruating girls from ritual prayers or fasting.
Two levels of trust are being exhibited.
At one end of the scale are teachers who do not trust the girls and think they are lying when they claim they are menstruating. Some teachers think the girls use the “I’ve got my period excuse” because they don’t want to attend prayer groups or fast.
At the other end of the scale are some schoolgirls who have full trust in their teacher’s actions. They are under the impression that the period checks are normal practice.
Those who have come forward found being groped a shameful and humiliating experience. Some had their panties checked, or were told to probe their vaginas with cotton buds, tissue or their fingers to show proof of blood. However, they trusted their teachers, wardens or seniors, and did not think of reporting this to their parents.
Also, it probably did not cross their minds that their teachers have no real knowledge of their religion.
The girls are probably not aware that in Islam, no one checks on people to see what is stopping them from praying. The religion does not force them to pray if they do not feel like it. It does not encourage others to pry into their affairs. So, how well do these teachers, and the schoolgirls, know their religion?
Some schoolgirls did not want the further humiliation of being groped or having to display their panties in public, so they would attend prayers despite menstruating. Fear of being groped has made them do something against their religion, which forbids ritual prayer if they have their period.
Today, many of these girls realise that it was sexual harassment.
It is inconceivable that no one in the education department had been aware of these abhorrent practices.
Sex education in schools and proper religious education would have made the girls better informed.
Jim Lim, a Penangite and a former director of social services in a London borough, who has many years of working with troubled youths, says “it is unbelievable that any person or any institution could sanction a religious diktat which allows the gathering of evidence by frisking young people”.
“This is an institutional abuse of children in public and a crime against young people,” he writes. “If girls were to report this to social services, it would be investigated. If it goes on in British establishments, inspectors would come in, close it down if evidence came out. If there is strong evidence, it would become a criminal case. Such practices are not tolerated in Britain. It’s a crime.”
Other scandals in schools have been just as shocking. Children were beaten till they became traumatised and ran away. A few died, but the teachers who allegedly physically abused the children were not punished.
Some children suffered severe injuries from beatings, as in the case of Mohd Thakif Amin Mohd Gaddafi, whose limbs were amputated but subsequently died. His death was attributed to leptospirosis, a disease borne by rats.
Other children were burnt to death in a tahfiz school. The school had failed to provide adequate safety measures such as fire exits. Nothing came of that investigation.
One university student was allegedly sexually molested by her lecturer, who was not punished.
Rina Harun and Radzi Mohd Jidin and their respective ministries have been slow to act in the period checks scandal. They should resign or be sacked.
One wonders if anything will come of this latest expose. More importantly, what is the quality of our teachers?
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily those of FMT.