Child’s killing jolts Saudi teachers into action

October 8, 2012


Women teachers in Saudi Arabia have launched a campaign calling for nurseries to be opened in all schools amid concerns about the safety of children left at home with domestic helpers.

The immediate spur for the campaign was the killing last week of the daughter of a woman teacher by the family’s domestic helper, a case that shocked the nation. Four-year-old Tala who was all alone at home in the Red Sea city of Yanubu when the Indonesian housemaid set upon her.

According to media reports and local police sources, the domestic help who had been employed by the family for seven years and had often drawn praise from neighbours and relatives severed the girl’s head in the parents’ bedroom in an act of rage the motive for which is still being investigated.

“We clearly tell all officials and particularly the minister of education that the terrible tragedy which struck a woman teacher will not be the last if no official action is taken,” the teachers said in a statement issued during the campaign. “We urge the opening of nurseries or kindergartens and the appointment of caretakers who will be in charge of them. These are basic rights of teachers who leave their homes every day to look after the daughters of their nation and leave their children in the custody of domestic helpers.”

Social networks and microblogs helped spread the message across the country.

“The killing of Tala, the latest in similar tragedies, has compounded the concerns and worries of women teachers who leave their children with domestic helpers,” Fawzia Al Dubais, a teacher, told Saudi Arabic daily Al Sharq. “I have decided never to leave my two children with the helper when I go to work and I now take them to stay with my mother until I come back from school,” she said.

Fawzia said that she had observed that the family’s helper treated her two children nicely. “However, I do not know what she may do when I leave her without any supervision for seven straight hours. I consider myself fortunate that my mother welcomes my children daily because many of my colleagues are not so fortunate and do not have anyone with whom they can leave their children while they are at work,” she said.

The caretaker at her school had agreed to watch over some children in an informal nursery she had set up for children of teachers, Fawzia said.

Fatima Al Dakheel, a teacher who is pregnant, said she had already started looking for a nursery for her unborn baby. “I am due to have my baby soon, but I want to be sure there is a safe place where he or she will be,” she said. “It is a bit difficult because my mother and my mother-in-law are too old to take care of the baby. I cannot leave the baby with the domestic helper because, after what happened to poor Tala, I cannot trust them anymore,” she said.

Fatima called for the Education Ministry to appreciate the significance of having nurseries or kindergartens in schools. “I am afraid that teachers will be preoccupied as they recall Tala’s tragedy and will be so dramatically affected that they will lose their concentration on their work. Their working conditions, personal feelings and productivity levels will vastly improve if nurseries are established in all women’s schools,” she said.

A spokesperson for the Education Ministry, said that it “deeply regretted the heinous crime that took the life of Tala” and that it was keen on ensuring that teachers felt safe and secure about their children while at work. “No decision has been taken about opening nurseries in women’s schools,” Mohammad Al Dakheeni said.



About the author

Born August 3, 1960 in Monastir, Tunisia
Media career:
  • ABC News (Tunisia)
  • Bahrain Tribune
  • Gulf News
  • Bahrain Television News
Teaching career:
  • Monastir (Tunisia)
  • University of Bahrain
  • MA  Mass Communications, University of Leicester
  • BA  in English & US literature and studies, University of Tunis

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