Tunisians have expressed shock and horror and even taken to the streets in protest after a video emerged showing autistic children being hit, insulted and slammed to the ground by their tutors. A journalist captured the footage using a hidden camera at a centre specialised in the care of autistic children in Ariana, a suburb located to the north of Tunis. FRANCE 24 spoke to this journalist about his video, which led to the government launching an investigation into the centre.

The footage, which was published on February 18 by the news site Essada, reveals the violent methods used by staff at the centre for autistic children in Ariana. The video includes several different sequences. One shows a teacher slamming a child up against a wall. In another sequence, an adult ties up a child’s hands before striking his head with multiple blows. The final sequence shows a child tied to a chair with a piece of clothing. The child is then beaten.

This video shows child abuse in a centre for autistic children. The original footage was published on the site Essada.net.

"These children are beaten every day without exception”

Rashed El Khiari is the newsroom director at Tunisian news site Essada.net. He told FRANCE 24 how he carried out this investigation.

"It all started in late January. We got tips from people who worked in the centre who said that employees who were working with the children were abusing them. We decided to arm one of our sources with a hidden camera so that we could see with our own eyes what was happening there. We carried out the investigation for about 15 days and, every day, we were surprised by what we saw.

Initially, our plan was to just film for a few days in hope of recording proof of this abuse. But faced with the extent of the violence, we decided to continue the investigation into the abuse of the 120 children at the centre in Ariana. This violence isn’t anecdotal – it is systematic.

These children are beaten every day, without exception. A child might be hit if he asks to go to the toilet, if he says he’s hungry, if he doesn’t understand directions, or if he complains. Our source told us that children are hit and insulted in front of the centre’s management and no one intervenes.

"Freezing or burning hot showers”

The teachers at the centre carry out humiliating corporal punishments, like forcing the children into freezing or burning hot showers. They act in complete and total impunity. The children can’t complain to their parents because they don’t realise that what is being done to them is not normal. Some of them have problems speaking and can’t express what is being done to them. This video is just the tip of the iceberg.

We decided against sharing this information with the authorities or with organisations. We wanted everyone to see this, and for the authorities to be forced to do something about it and spread awareness about this problem. If we hadn’t done things this way, then it would have been handled much more quietly. This scandal is all the more shocking because this centre is financed by several state institutions. Moreover, the state gives the centre an annual benefit of around 800 dinars (around 270 euros) per student.”

There was an intense reaction to the publication of this video on social media. Some parents, who recognised their children in the video, filed complaints against the teachers, according to El Khiari.

Translated from French: “Monsters on earth! We mustn't keep quiet! It’s horrible”. This was the reaction of a Tunisian person on social media after seeing the video. (Screengrab from Facebook).

People in Tunis held protests in Kasbah square to condemn the practices of the centre.

Tunisians held a protest demanding the closure of this centre. (Video from the Facebook page "Rassd Tunisia".)

This isn’t the first time that Tunisia has had to face up to this kind of scandal. In November 2017, a private special education centre called Shems, which was located in Al Mourrouj, a town south of Tunis, closed its doors after a video emerged showing a child being abused.

FRANCE 24 contacted the Minister of Women, Family and Childhood, but had received no reply to our questions by the time of publication.

However, an official from the ministry, Mihyar Hamadi, made a public statement responding to the video. Hamadi stated that an investigation would be launched on Monday, February 19 and that it would determine the future of this centre.