Aritry Adkhikary's suicide has jolted us out of our comfort zone. Yes, some teachers have been suspended from their positions, but are we aware of the fact that this year's attempted suicide amongst children is double that of last year. Bangladesh Shishu Adkhikar Forum (BSAF) has compiled the number of deaths among children over a six-year period from 2012-2018 (based on media reports) and we are told that at least 293 children died by suicide and 22 more attempted it in the last 11 months. Many cases of death by suicide or attempted suicides are never reported. We live in a society where children are stretched to the limit to excel in studies.
Experts tell us that the cognitive, emotional, social and physical development of a child does not happen at the same level. But the unhealthy competition for better grades has become a status symbol amongst parents. Those who do not do well are emotionally abused at the family level and then by society at large. The Viqarunnisa incident has highlighted the other dark side of our education system. When a pupil caught cheating is made to stand and witness the humiliation of her parents by the school administration, sometimes the experience is too much to handle for a young mind. And we end up with the death of a child.
Suicide prevention in our schools requires a major rethink. Corporal punishment may have been declared illegal but it still exists in many institutions. Emotional abuse by teachers, moreover, is equally damaging. Times have changed and we need to realise that it is time to introduce psychological counselling at schools; a safe place for young minds (who by virtue of their age are in a very vulnerable emotional state) to go and seek assistance in this highly competitive and desensitised education system. Children need professional help to deal with stress, and grownups, whether they are teachers or parents, must treat them with dignity and sensitivity.