Second madrasah head held for child rape in Bangladesh

DHAKA • A religious school's head has been arrested for allegedly raping two girls and sexually molesting another six children under his care, Bangladeshi officials said yesterday.

Abul Khair Belali, 33, is the second principal of a madrasah - a religious school - to be arrested this week for allegedly raping schoolgirls.

Belali, also an imam at a nearby mosque, was arrested on Friday at the Kendua girls' madrasah after an 11-year-old pupil told her parents she had been raped by him, police chief Mohammad Rasheduzzaman said.

The school is also used as a dormitory by around 15 girls from the surrounding villages.

"On Saturday, he admitted that he raped at least two girls aged eight and 11 and sexually molested another six female children," Mr Rasheduzzman told Agence France-Presse.

The incident sparked protests in Kendua, roughly 120km north of Dhaka, with hundreds of people marching through the main street demanding punishment for the principal.

It comes after police last week arrested another madrasah head over alleged child rape in Fatulla, and two high school teachers in the central industrial town of Narayanganj for allegedly raping 20 students.

Rights groups raised concerns about the spike in the number of rape and sexual assaults in the Muslim-majority South Asian nation.

The Manusher Jonno Foundation, a local rights group, published a report in April saying 433 children were raped last year. Most were aged between seven and 12, it said.

The arrests have also raised questions on the safety of students in Bangladesh's thousands of residential madrasahs, where mostly poor children live under the care of their teachers.

"We have noticed an alarming rise in the sexual abuse of children, including the rape of male children, in madrasahs in recent years," Mr Abdus Shahid, head of the Bangladesh Shishu Adhikar Forum, a children's rights group, told AFP.

He said "a culture of impunity" is partly to blame for the rise in sexual violence in the country, as only a few cases end in convictions.

The latest arrests come months after Bangladesh was shaken by the murder of 19-year-old Ms Nusrat Jahan Rafi, who was burned to death on the alleged orders of a madrasah headteacher after she refused to withdraw a sexual assault charge against him.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 08, 2019, with the headline 'Second madrasah head held for child rape in Bangladesh'. Print Edition | Subscribe