Shamsah Husayn ʿAntar, teacher:
»When we witness sexual assaults, we find the perpetrator and beat him severely«
KURDWATCH, September 30, 2015—Shamsah Husayn ʿAntar was born in 1967 in ʿAmudah and currently lives in al‑Qamishli. She is trained as a child educator and has been working as a teacher for twenty-three years. ʿAntar speaks about the sexual abuse of women and children, which she believes has been on the rise in recent years in the Kurdish regions. The interview reveals the helplessness of educators, teachers, and parents in facing sexual violence, a lack of institutions and NGOs willing to address this issue, and the desolate situation in schools in Syrian-Kurdistan four years after the beginning of the Syrian revolution.
KurdWatch: In an interview with »Suwar« magazine, you said that sexual abuse in the Kurdish regions has been on the rise in recent years. What does that mean exactly? Who are the perpetrators?
Shamsah Husayn ʿAntar:Sexual abuse occurrs across Syria and also in the Kurdish regions. But it is a taboo subject and hardly anyone speaks about it. Both sides—perpetrators and victims—are stigmatized. Most of the time the victims are girls in puberty or else women and children who have to visit the authorities for private matters.
KurdWatch: How do women who visit the authorities become victims?
Shamsah Husayn ʿAntar:Many women who visit a government agency are sexually harassed. Sometime cases are repeatedly delayed and the woman is summoned to an agency again and again so that officials can demand sex from her. From my many years of experience as a teacher, I also know that in the Kurdish regions women who apply for teaching positions are regularly asked to perform sex as a prerequisite for employment.
KurdWatch: Do you know of specific cases of children or their family members reporting sexual abuse?
Shamsah Husayn ʿAntar:The mother of one of my first graders told me that her sixty-year-old neighbor had sexually abused the six-year-old girl. She told me verbatim: »I’m afraid to tell my husband. I’m afraid that he might commit a crime against the neighbor. The problem is that my daughter now goes to the neighbor’s voluntarily.« I thought a lot about what I should do about this situation. The only solution I could find was to approach the rapist’s daughter. His daughter is twenty-years old and promised to talk to her father. Sexual acts between students—often between older and younger students—occur in the bathrooms at schools. I once saw a female student run from the bathroom. She seemed very frightened, which made me suspicious, so I asked what was wrong. She said that two older boys hadn’t allowed her into the bathroom. I checked the bathroom and found a sixth grader guarding the bathroom door. The other boy was in the stall. When the boy in front of the door saw me, he gave the boy in the stall a sign and both of them ran away. As I was heading back to my class, I saw a second grader leave the bathroom. I took her back to the classroom with me and asked her what happened in the bathroom. She finally said that the boys had undressed her and taken turns groping her. They offered her ten Syrian lira for this. I was very upset and pulled the two boys from their class. They denied it, so I beat them until they confessed everything. Then I spoke with one of the school’s educators, but he said that he couldn’t do anything because he was afraid that the parents of the boys might kill him. So I spoke to the girl’s mother, but didn’t tell her the boys’ names. Since everyone knows one another and they are neighbors, I didn’t want it to become a big deal.
KurdWatch: You said that cases of sexual abuse have been on the rise since 2011. What do you think are the reasons for this?
Schamsah Husayn ʿAntar: There really have been more cases of sexual abuse since 2011. One of the reasons is that parents have less time for their children. They are more interested in the news and the state of the country. They also have a harder time making a living. Poverty has increased and because of this poverty, many families have to share one room. Children see their parents engage in sexual acts. Poverty also leads older children to offer younger children money in exchange for sex.
KurdWatch: Are children also victims of sexual abuse in their own families?
Shamsah Husayn ʿAntar:I don’t think it happens as frequently within the family. Even if someone in the family wants sex with a child, there is hardly any opportunity because there’s so little space. In contrast, sexual abuse outside of the apartment takes place mainly between older men and children. Women are less affected because they don’t spend as much time outside of the apartment.
KurdWatch: Are there any discussions in schools about how to handle sexual assaults?
Shamsah Husayn ʿAntar:Our schools are schools in name only. The school is nothing more than a building with books, old, broken tables, and teachers who have grown weary of life. The children are barely taught. The curriculum includes health classes, which would allow teachers to discuss such questions with the children. But most of the time nothing is taught in these classes. The teacher tells the children to keep themselves busy, and he spends the class reflecting upon his own miserable life and how he can feed his own children with his meager wages. The teaching profession is one of the worst professions in Syria today. There is no opportunity to profit from corruption, and there’s also nothing to steal. When we witness sexual assaults, we find the perpetrator and beat him severely. At most we speak to the parents, who blame us, and then it becomes a big deal. It can go so far that teachers are sued on the grounds that children were allegedly suspected without cause. In short, our schools are called schools but aren’t really schools. For example, each school has an educator, but what does he do? During the first period he collects all the children and shows them to their classrooms, and then he goes home. Our schools suffer from chaos. They haven’t provided a reasonable education in roughly ten years. The Syrian revolution has made the situation in schools even worse.
KurdWatch: What help is offered to children who have been sexually abused or harassed? Is there a government agency that is responsible for this issue or are there civil organizations that take care of these children?
Shamsah Husayn ʿAntar:There is no government agency that feels responsible for such cases. The education authority exists in name only. It provides hardly any services. And the various aid organizations visit once a year. Their people distribute a few school bags or other aid supplies that reach just ten percent of the students. The regional authorities keep the rest for themselves. They are sold on the black market.
KurdWatch: Are there families that keep their kids out of school because of the danger of sexual abuse?
Shamsah Husayn ʿAntar:Families send their kids to school in order to have some peace and quiet. There is nothing at home to occupy the children during their free time. Most of the time there is no electricity. Children used to at least be able to sit in front of the television, but since there is often no electricity, that is no longer an option. There are also no playgrounds or parks. All the streets are dirty. For the past three years, skin ailments have been increasing among our children. They often have lice in their hair or bedbugs. They also can’t wash because there is little water. Water is only available every three days. Sorry, I’ve changed the subject. I feel terrible about the children’s suffering and about our frustrating lives.
Berlin, August 24, 2015