By Francis Ehwerido
Merry Christmas to you, although the news coming out of Deeper Life High School in Akwa Ibom is not merry. Earlier in the week, the news broke of an 11-year-old male student of the school, who was molested and maltreated by senior students. The principal had allegedly moved the victim from a junior students’ hostel to a hostel with mainly senior students, where the senior students inserted their fingers, toes and only God knows what else into the victim’s anus.
Why the principal will make such a thoughtless decision beats me hollow. The mother of the victim in her viral video lamented that boarding house is no longer what it used to be. I understand her pains and frustration, but it is not true; cases of sexual abuse and maltreatment of younger students have always occurred in boarding schools, unfortunately.
I was with a septuagenarian recently, who lost a former classmate. The major thing he remembered about his old schoolmate was his sexual abuse of a younger student in the 60s, which led to his expulsion. He later finished from another school and became a professor later in life before he died. Very few schools have been able to stamp out sex abuse, bullying and maltreatment of junior students, especially in the boarding house.
The onus is actually on parents to decide on the school their child should attend and at what point the child should go to the boarding house. What factors should guide parents in making these decisions? I had written previously on this topic.
The convenience and economic circumstances of some parents determine which school they send their children to and whether they go from home or stay in boarding. In truth, school-runs can be very disruptive and inconveniencing for parents whose children are day students. But ideally the needs, strength and overall personality of the child in question should guide parents in taking an informed decision. Many children start secondary school between ages 10 and 12.
Our subject today is 11 years old. Where the child is outgoing, sociable and secure, sending him/her to the dormitory is a less difficult decision. Schools with good boarding arrangements teach children at an early age to be independent, disciplined and organized; they also teach them how to relate well with people of different backgrounds and orientations.
They help to build long-lasting bonds that can come handy in the future. But if the child is introverted, insecure and vulnerable, you need to take your time and find out if the child is ready for the outside world without parental cover.
You also need to consider the health status of your child before you send him/her to the dormitory. I will not encourage parents who have children with health challenges to send them to the dormitory, except the school has a high standard of care and excellent health facilities. Also if the child is bed-wetting, can he survive the taunts that will inevitably come from other students?
If he has a rhino-thick skin, then he can go to the dormitory, but if he is very sensitive, maybe he needs to be a day student until he stops bed-wetting. The principal sent our subject matter to the senior hostel because he was bed-wetting.
Was that meant to stop him from bed-wetting or to serve as a punishment? It is like throwing a sheep to a pack of wolves. The outcome is not surprising.
When I started secondary in the 70s, many fresh students and even a few old students were still bed-wetting, so what is so strange or unusual about bed-wetting? It is just nature. Ultimately everyone outgrows it.
The principal made a grievous error of judgment. That is shocking decision making. Doesn’t he have children? Don’t (didn’t) they bed-wet? Even if his children don’t (didn’t), he cannot be exonerated from blame. That is administrative ineptitude.
Another factor parents must consider before sending their children to the boarding house are the looks of their male children.
If your son is very attractive or feminine-looking, you really need to tutor him on how to resist predators that abound in some secondary schools. Our subject matter was a good-looking, chubby boy when he entered the school, although he was a bag of bones when the news broke out.
Predators usually target good-looking and vulnerable young students. You might want to investigate whether such acts take place in your child’s would-be school, but experience has shown that when you bunch people of the same sex in an enclosed environment over time (be it school or prison) homosexual tendencies begin to emerge. It might not be obvious, but it is there.
Thankfully, many of these youngsters outgrow it when they get older and start interacting with the opposite sex. That is why I am against labeling such young, impressionable minds as homosexuals, the early tendency notwithstanding. But parents need to be sure that their children are strong-willed enough to fend off predators before sending them to the dormitory. Prevention, they say, is better than cure. Some people say mixed schools remedy the situation. Well, maybe, but they come with their own baggage and challenges, teenage pregnancies being an example. Moreover, are homosexual tendencies absent in all mixed schools?
Some schools are also filled with bullies; can your child survive the onslaught? Constant bullying can easily cause personality disorder.
It is too early to know the extent of psychological damage the maltreatment of our subject matter has done; only time will tell, but the parents certainly have work on their hands. The mother said he will not be going back to the school. That is the right decision.
He needs to move to a new school and environment as part of his healing. Seeing the same environment and people, who molested him, might affect the healing process. But I am shocked that the mother openly showed the boy’s face. He is a minor and his identity should have been hidden. I hope this error of judgment will not come back to bite her.
Some school children, not necessarily in the dormitory, in the US are known to have committed suicide as a result of bullying.
Even when some children survive the bullying, they imbibe it and bully their younger ones when they come home on holidays. Incidentally, some of these schools are very good in academics and other areas, so parents are forced to stick with them and manage their children’s bullying attitude.
Some parents shirk their parental responsibilities at the early stages of their children’s development and push their poorly-brought-up children to the dormitory for reformation.
This is very common in mission schools like the one where our subject matter was molested. I do not know how these parents want a few clergy men and women and other staff who oversee thousands of students, to accomplish what they, who oversee only three or four children, could not accomplish.
Sometimes children from such homes become pollutants in the school environment. Ensure that your child has that strength of character to counter their negative influences before you put him/her in the dormitory. It is not as if he/she is totally immune to bad external influences as a day student, but it is more when he/she is in the dormitory. Sometimes parents keep their children at home for a while to enable the parents deepen certain values in them before sending them to the boarding house; sometimes it is to give the children more time to master their indigenous language. Some children are easily influenced and the parents decide they go to school from home to reduce bad external influences pending when they become self-assured.
I left home for secondary school when I was 11 years old. That was the first time of staying and sleeping outside my home. I was vulnerable, but my parents had no choice; there were very few secondary schools in the 70s and admission was hard to come by. Life in the hostel was tough.
A week later, when my father visited, I felt like going home with him, but did not have the courage to tell him. Worsening my dormitory experience was a senior student who hated me at first sight. He practically turned my life upside down. He never flogged me, but that would have been preferable to the mental torture he put me through. It was a horrendous introduction to the outside world. I was happy to see his back when he graduated.
Whatever the challenges, no normal child remains under the protection of the parents forever. At some point, the eaglet must leave the eagles’ nest. A stint in the dormitory is good for a child’s all-round development. When? That is the issue. Keeping the best interest of your child in mind enhances your decision making. For the parents of the abused child, the interest of the boy should guide them in their next action. As for the school authorities, they should ensure justice is done for the boy, whether or not he remains in the school. Beyond that, they should put measures in place to avoid a reoccurrence. Normally, when scandals like these occur, schools are more interested in damage control than the protecting the interest of the abused child. I had a personal experience when I followed a friend to his son’s school.
Some parents let down their guards once their children are in mission schools. Sometimes, the students are treated as numbers rather than individuals with different personalities. There might still be a few mission schools, where you can take your child to and rest assured, but I guess we all know better now.
I wish all readers and followers of this column a Merry Christmas and a fruitful 2021.