Give children respect, privacy

The facade of Nanyang Girls' High School.
The facade of Nanyang Girls' High School.PHOTO: ST FILE

The recent incident in which a teacher unbuttoned a student's blouse to check the colour of her bra has sparked appropriate outrage due to the humiliation suffered by the students (Nanyang Girls' High apologises after attire check made students 'feel uncomfortable', Jan 29).

This brings to light the arbitrary nature of school attire rules.

Nanyang Girls' High School (NYGH) allows students to wear only white or beige bras to look "neat and presentable". My alma mater Raffles Girls' School allowed only white, black or beige bras. The reason typically given is to reduce visibility or distraction.

Yet, the fact that the NYGH teacher had to check the bra straps calls into question how visible they really are.

And if they are visible, shouldn't schools value the comfort of female students and use uniforms that are not see-through to begin with?

I also see this incident as symptomatic of the larger problem of children not being afforded bodily autonomy and respect.

Unbuttoning collars and pulling out bra straps without consent sends the wrong message - that children should accept, even expect, physically intrusive actions by the "rule-abiding" authorities.

If we don't trust our children to conduct themselves within their own private spaces, how can we build a culture where children identify harassment and abuse when they occur?

And how can our children feel comfortable opening up about important personal matters with parents, teachers or other adults?

This case is a chance to reconsider how our treatment of children can have significant impact on their psychological and physical health.

Cindy Guo (Ms)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 11, 2019, with the headline 'Give children respect, privacy'. Print Edition | Subscribe