A mother has accused authorities in the capital of ignoring the case of her mentally handicapped son, who was allegedly assaulted by caretakers in his school, raising questions about the prevalence of child abuse within educational institutions in the country.
The story was recently brought to light by Tunisian media outlet Kapitalis, which conducted an interview with the 13-year old boy’s aggrieved mother. According to the mother, identified only as Fatma, her son, 11 at the time, was repeatedly assaulted and restrained by caretakers in a school for special needs children in Ariana. A police report filed by the mother in September 2014 details that the boy was punched, bitten, and restrained by caretakers who struggled to control the handicapped boy’s sudden outbursts. On multiple occasions the boy’s hands were tied together during session, the complaint notes.
After confronting school officials about suspicious injuries on the boy’s hands in September 2014, she was simply told that the boy had injured himself playing with other children. After removing the boy from the Ariana school, the mother has been unsuccessful in enrolling her son in another institution, with none being able to accommodate the boy’s unique medical needs.
“ I still have been unable to find a solution,” she said .
The mother also said that she has received little support from the legal system, and that officials have been largely unresponsive to her claims.
“They (the police) directed me to the courts. They listened to our complaints. But until now I’ve heard nothing from them,” she said.
Responding to the allegations of physical abuse in the school, Delegate for the Protection of Children in Ariana Hedia Tebourbi expressed confusion and doubt over the mother’s claims. She said that she had only recently been made aware of the case via social media, and questioned why the child’s mother had not filed a complaint with the Delegate sooner.
“I’m surprised to see those images.” Tebourbi said in an interview with Mosaique FM, “I’m wondering, have they done this to smear me? To ruin my reputation? Why?”
Contacted by Tunisia Live, a representative for the Ministry of Women and Family Affairs said that the ministry is aware of the case and will release an official statement to the public following their own investigation. (The ministry has not released a statement at the time of publication.)
Other reports of physical abuse by support staff in schools and educational institutions have emerged in recent weeks.
Arbia Saad, a textile worker from Jbel Jloud, claimed that her 4-year old son was severely burned on his face by a caretaker at a local preschool last week.
The boy, whose injuries require serious medical attention, now suffers from bouts of aggression and insomnia, while the mother risks losing her job after missing work to care for him.
No one from the government has offered assistance to either her or her son, Saad said.
Rahma is preparing a master thesis in Anglo-American studies. She is interested in politics and foreign affairs. Since the outbreak of the Tunisian revolution, she volunteered for several Tunisian associations such as ATIDE, Sawty and others. She writes articles about post-revolution Tunisia.