Minor boys who outed principal’s molestation expose systemic deficiencies

By Sen    December 20, 2018 | 05:14 pm PT
Minor boys who’ve accused a school principal of molestation have prompted a search for long-term, preventive solutions.
Some of the student victims who came to light about the abuse. Photo courtesy of VTV 24.

Some of the student victims who have accused their school principal of sexual abuse. Photo courtesy of VTV24

In a country where more than 1,000 child sexual abuse cases are reported every year, the recent case in the northern province of Phu Tho served as a reminder that current children protection protocols have not worked well.

Many people have joined the conversations. Government leaders have ordered heavier punishment for the crime, while human rights activists and psychologists have suggested more practical and sensitive approach to protect the children and support those falling victims.

Dinh Bang My, the principal of a boarding school in Phu Tho, was arrested last Saturday for alleged sexual abuse of his students.

Some boys said My called them to his office to "talk" and sexually assaulted them by demanding oral sex and also performing it on the students. Afterwards, he would give them candy or some money, a few ten thousands dong notes (VND23,300=$1).

Fear and embarrassment deterred them from speaking up until now, the boys said. Preliminary investigation suggests the abuse has happened for several years.

Attorney Ta Ngoc Van, well known for work with Vietnamese women trafficked to China and "freeing" many children in Hanoi abused by foreign pedophiles, has offered to work pro bono for the boys.

He works for Blue Dragon Foundation, a charity that helps the underprivileged.

Van said protecting children should be a priority, especially those belonging to the ethnic minority, like the ones in Phu Tho.

"I have defended many victims of sexual abuse who are boys. It is part of the responsibility of lawyers to protect children in remote areas," he told Tuoi Tre.

Doing so would heighten awareness and prompt people to speak out, protecting other boys against sexual abuse, he said.

Regarding the Phu Tho case, Van said that when the situation is that the abuse has been going on for a while, the school, office and department of education cannot be absolved of guilt.

He said that in the future, the Ministry of Education and Training should stipulate that each school must have a room for teachers and students to meet, and a head teacher or parent of the student must be present at such meetings.

Meeting rooms must have a friendly design, lots of light, and be visible to people outside, he added.

Dinh Bang My - Principal of Ethnic Minority Boarding School of Thanh Son district, Phu Tho Province, 80 km northwest from Hanoi, before being nabbed. Photo courtesy of VTV 24.

Dinh Bang My, principal of Phu Tho Ethnic Minority Boarding School, has been arrested after minor boys accused him of sexual abuse. Photo courtesy of VTV24

Psychologists have pitched in saying schools must equip children with knowledge of issues related to sex and sexual exploitation so that when abuse does happen, it is reported immediately to adults and the police as fast as possible.

Nguyen Van Anh, director of the Center for Studies and Applied Sciences of Gender - Family - Women - Adolescents (CSAGA), said that parents should talk to abused children in a way that encourages them to put it behind as a bad experience in life.

"Of course, not all parents can do this, some can feel guilty, tormented and admonish their child instead," Anh told Tuoi Tre.

"In the past two years, many sexual abuse cases in schools have been responded to with macro-level solutions. The Ministry of Education and Training and the state management agencies working on child protection must change this to a more practical approach and avoid the situation that the matter is a hot topic for the public for sometime, and then everything is back to where it was."

Anh said that knowledge about sex and sexual issues needs to be disseminated in a modern society, because this is a basic step needed to fight sexual violence. When it comes to social understanding, there are measures to prevent people who are likely to harm others, she added.

Global surveys have consistently shown that child abuse, including sexual abuse, is committed primarily by those who are close, and are an influential authority for the young. The abusers are often those who are responsible for childcare and protection, and therefore abusers of authority, too.

Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam has asked the Ministry of Education and Training and the Phu Tho provincial government to remove the accused from the education system if investigations confirm his wrongdoing.

The Ministry of Public Security has ordered functional units and police in provinces and centrally-run cities to investigate and strictly punish acts of child abuse, especially sexual abuse of children.

However, psychologist Anh said that the solution should start with the education provided at school. "There must be real-life knowledge, academic knowledge alone is not enough," she said.

"There is civics education in school but is it valued? Or does this only focus on subjects that aim at high achievements? How many school subjects are there concerning safety, dignity and maturity of people?" 

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