School girls play truant for lack of separate toilets
ANJALI SUBEDI/ELISHA SHRESTHA
KATHMANDU, June 13: Sharmila Magar, a lower secondary student at Siddheshwor Secondary School at New Baneshwor simply hates any stomach-related problem, however slight. And it´s reason enough to keep her from going to school.
“I enjoy a lot being with friends and studying at school. However, whenever I have even a very mild stomach pain I do not come to school,” Sharmila said.
The problem is there is no separate and proper toilet for girls at the school. Though the school recently set up a tiny room for the purpose, it is hardly usable for lack of maintenance and, more importantly, for lack of water.
Sharmila is just one among thousands of students facing this inconvenience at school. Government data show that only 40 percent of the 28,057community schools in the country have separate toilets for girls. Girls in the remaining 60 percent either simply resist nature´s call while at school or do not attend school at all, especially when they are in their menstrual cycle.
Eight grader Sunita KC at Mangal Secondary School at Naikap shares a similar experience. According to her, girls in her class including herself hardly show up in school during their menstrual cycle. “At such times we need to change frequently. And we need water to keep ourselves clean. But we do not have such facilities at school, and it´s better not to come to school at all at such times,” she explained. The school has just two toilets for its more than 400 students and, not surprisingly, they are hardly clean enough for use.
The health impact of not attending to nature´s calls can be severe in the long run. But these girls are also compromising their studies for lack of toilets at school.
It is quite unfortunate to note that only 64 percent of community schools nationwide have toilet facilities, according to data provided by the Department of Education.
In addition, government officials admit that not all of these toilets are in good working order. “We must admit that we have not been able to properly monitor conditions at schools. There are toilets in 64 percent of community schools but it is difficult to say if all of these are in usable condition. As for separate toilets for girls, only 40 percent of the 28,058 community schools in the country have them,” states Hari Gautam, deputy director at the Education Department.
The data further show that there is an utter lack of child friendly toilet in schools or toilets designed for privacy. For instance, while there are 223 toilets at 372 community schools in Rukum, making it the worst district in terms of availability of toilets at public schools, what is more pathetic is there is not a single separate toilet for girls.
When it comes to the poor state of toilets at schools, Sindhupakchowk and Dailekh are only slightly better, with 3 percent of schools having separate toilets for girls. Darchula has separate toilets for girl students in 5 percent of its schools.
By contrast, Morang boasts the highest percentage of separate toilets for girls, at 74 percent of its 535 public schools. In Kathmandu 64 percent of the 299 community schools have separate toilets for girls.