Campaigners say that while sexual abuse of minor pupils certainly warrants criminal prosecution, there is need to take a more liberal view of a consensual relationship.
John (not his real name) was a good and popular school teacher but, then, in a moment of madness at an end-of-the-term party he kissed a girl student. And his world turned upside down: he was arrested, convicted of a sex offence and banned from working with children for ten years. Overnight, he became a declared sex-offender for what he calls sharing ``just one kiss” with a student.
John admits that what he did was a ``serious error of judgement” but denies that he is a paedophile.
“I’m a convicted sex-offender for kissing a 17-year-old girl!” he says calling his conviction a “total over-reaction and symptomatic of the child protection paranoia” prevailing in Britain.
John is one of the many perceived victims of a well-meaning but somewhat over-the-top law that makes it illegal for a teacher (male or female) to have a physical relationship with a pupil even if the latter is above the age of consent (that is 16 years) as the girl in John’s case was. The peculiarity of the law is that it applies only if the teacher and the pupil belong to the same school. There is no bar on a teacher of one school having a relationship with a pupil of another school provided the latter is above the age of consent.
The law was designed to protect students from predatory teachers and flowed from the argument that a teacher-pupil relationship is based on trust and any attempt by teachers to abuse that trust, using their power, should be treated as seriously as any other criminal offence.
But, now, there are calls for the law to be reviewed on grounds that it is too harsh as it regards what, essentially, is a “moral transgression” as a crime for which a teacher can go to jail and be declared a sex-offender.
Campaigners say that while sexual abuse of minor pupils certainly warrants criminal prosecution, there is need to take a more liberal view of a consensual relationship. They also claim that the law has resulted in a culture of false accusations with children often using it to settle scores with teachers they don’t like.
The issue sparked a controversy after Chris Keates, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters’ Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), demanded changes in the law arguing that it was wrong to criminalise teachers in this way. The law, she said, was also deeply flawed in that while it punished a teacher for having a relationship with a pupil in the same school the same teacher could get away with it if he or she preyed on pupils of another school.
“There’s a real anamoly in the law....Clearly there has to be appropriate disciplinary sanctions in the school to make sure inappropriate relationships don’t develop but it does seem a step too far—when there has been a consensual relationship—to put the person on a sex-offenders register when, in fact, they could have a perfectly legitimate relationship with an 18-year-old still enrolled at another school,” Ms Keates told an ITV documentary on the subject, To Sir with Love, a title borrowed from a British classic film with quite a different theme.
But opinion is sharply divided even among teachers many of whom argue that considering that teachers have enormous power over their students it is important that there is a strong law to deter them from abusing their position. But the most fierce opposition to demands for a change has come from parents and child welfare agencies who insist that the protection of a child takes precedence over other considerations.
John may have deserved his punishment but he is right about one thing: there is a climate of ``paranoia” about child protection and it has reached a point where even talking to a child is fraught with risk. You could end up being accused of bad intentions just for trying to say hello to a little kid.
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Beyond box- office
In Dev Anand’s film Guide there is a scene where his leading lady Waheeda Rehman visits him in jail and asks: “But why did you do this?”
Dev Anand says: “I had thought that whether anyone else understood it or not, at least you would understand.”
I am always reminded of that scene whenever Dev Anand is called upon to justify why, at his age, he continues to make films despite one flop after another. He talks with great enthusiasm about his “restless energy,” his “still sharp mind,” his love for cinema and his desire to entertain until his last breathe etc, etc. But deep down, I suspect, he is disappointed that his fans don’t get him and wants to scream: “I thought at least you would understand.”
That Guide moment happened again recently when he appeared at Nehru Centre to attend the screening of, yes, Guide as part of a season of classical Indian cinema organised by Satyajit Ray Foundation.
After listening to repeated references to his age in a long and rambling introductory speech by a former BBC journalist, a bemused Dev Anand, who turned 85 recently, made clear he had no intention of hanging his boots any time soon. And as he declared defiantly, “I’m moving ahead” there was no escaping the sense that he resented having to justify himself to his own fans.
But, he must have also been flattered by the large turnout (the normally quiet Nehru Centre auditorium was packed to capacity): a sign that, for all the ridicule that is routinely hurled at him for making films that nobody sees, Dev Anand remains a huge draw. They may not flock to his movies any more but they still admire him. And that means something in an age of fleeting stardom.
6 months ago