<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Six-year-old Sayli (name changed) has recently started going back to school. Unlike other children her age, going to school for Sayli has become a mere compulsive act over the last two years. Sayli’s father Vikrant says that his daughter is neither excited nor sad to begin her day at school every day. “She is just neutral,” he adds.On November 23, 2015, the police arrested three teachers in connection with an alleged case of sexual violence after Sayli complained to her parents about the teachers “touching her inappropriately”.Nearly two years after the incident, Sayli’s family, residents of a western suburb in the city, is now celebrating some of the smallest victories. After a series of counselling sessions, Sayli started going back to the same school. The accused meanwhile were let out on bail a few days after the incident while the trial in the case has only just begun.Sayli’s case is just another in a series of incidents of sexual abuse and negligence in schools that have been reported over the last few years in the city. The most recent case — from Gurugram — is a 7-year-old male student being killed inside the school’s washroom at Ryan International School, that has once again brought to the forefront serious concerns over child safety in schools.Knee-jerk reactionsA series of protests from parents across the country followed in the wake of the Gurugram incident. Parents demanded not only a safe environment for their children and wards in schools, but also emphasised on the need for a single comprehensive policy to arrest the possibility of such crimes even before they take place.Time and again, such instances have only seen knee-jerk reactions from all sections, be it from the government or school authorities themselves. Despite a number of safety guidelines and punitive measures in place, such instances are only on the rise.Anubha Sahai, practicing lawyer and President of the Indiawide Parents Association, says that despite several provisions under the law, a lack of awareness and the difficulty in invoking them makes it difficult to handle situations pertaining to sexual abuse and negligence in schools.“There are multiple ways in which parents can lodge a complaint if such an untoward incident happens to their child. Several laws including the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000, the Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act and several provisions of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) can be invoked. The National and State Commissions for the Protection of Child Rights can also be approached as well,” Sahai explains but notes, “The issue, however, lies with the implementation. Numerous complaints filed under these laws are handled at a snail’s pace while the perpetrators run free.”She says that in such cases, the negligence of government authorities including the state education department is not pointed out. “If a school lacks basic safety provisions or if it does not have some of the basic infrastructural facilities like separate toilets for girls and boys and the staff, how and why does the state education department continue to give affiliation to such schools?” she remarks.Security lapsesOver the past few years, as schools get more sophisticated, hefty amounts are often spent on infrastructure, staff training, and background checks. Despite all these measures, however, several schools have recently seen crimes perpetrated by ‘insiders’ like peons, teachers, bus drivers, conductors, helpers and even principals, who have managed to breach these systems.“The idea of security and safety which schools have is very narrow. Schools only show that they have all the requisite infrastructure in place without actually monitoring it. Most schools have CCTV cameras but there is nobody to monitor them at all times. Some of these cameras do not even store the footage. Also, while most schools claim to conduct background checks at the time of recruiting staff, this is not enough. There should be sensitisation workshops from time to time and there should be constant monitoring to ensure that such incidents do not take place,” said Jayant Jain, President, Forum for Fairness in Education (FFE), a city-based NGO that plans to file a PIL requesting the government to introduce a comprehensive safety policy in schools.Despite understanding the advantages of it, budget private schools and government schools struggle to implement security measures due to the lack of financial support. Uday Nare, a teacher at Hansraj Morarji Public School in Andheri said that while most schools are aware of the safety provisions, they find it difficult to implement them due to the lack of funds from the government.“Small private schools and government schools do not have the necessary funds to set up and maintain such security systems. These schools cannot charge hefty fees from students as most of them come from poor backgrounds. The government needs to allocate special funds for this purpose at least now after several such cases have been reported,” added Nare.Demand for a comprehensive policyWhile the state government and the respective education departments issue circulars for the safety of children in schools, educationists point out the lack of a uniform policy which can create a strict mandate for schools. Early Childhood Association (ECA), a national body representing pre-schools in the country, created a safety manual for schools in the country in 2015.Swati Popat Vats, President of ECA, said that the absence of a body to regulate pre-schools is a big hurdle in making them safe. “Unlike other countries, there are no standard procedures to open a playschool here. The government does not have a set of official guidelines which can be strictly implemented. Even agencies like the police and the corporation do not know what action to take as there are no clearly laid down norms in the first place. The ECA has put together a manual which schools can use as a reference,” said Vats.With technology, parents are able to track their child in schools. But concerns are being raised about the misuse of this technology and the increasing surveillance on children in schools which could also affect the child in the long run.“Many parents come to us with requests for a GPS tracker on each child. Some parents ask for CCTV footage on their phones. This is not just intrusion into the child’s private space but also a huge risk as this can be misused by other sinister elements in their favour,” explains Vats.Several initiatives have been taken up by the state government to ensure the safety of students in schools including the formation of a Suraksha committee to make school buses safe, the inclusion of counsellors in each school, setting up POCSO boxes in schools to get complaints. But these are far from being implemented.“For the last two years, the Suraksha committee has hardly done any work. Bus owners have tried putting across their concerns about the proliferation of illegal vans which pose a huge threat to safety but the government has not taken any action on this issue,” said Anil Garg, President of the School Bus Owners Association (SBOA).The way aheadWith its existing challenges, the issue of lack of safety in schools is far from being addressed at all levels. While demands for stronger regulations are getting louder by the day with parents becoming more aware and concerned about their child’s safety, educationists say that the issue does not and cannot have a one-stop solution.“The issue is very complex and has to be dealt with at multiple levels. To begin with, there should be strict regulations binding on schools to ensure that there are no obvious security lapses. This needs constant monitoring and supervision from the concerned authorities and bodies. On the other hand, students have to be sensitised about “good touch and bad touch” while staff members should be trained and sensitised on various levels and frequent intervals. Even if an untoward incident does take place, despite all these precautions, the school authorities, police and child rights bodies should work together to bring the child out of the trauma and ensure that the culprits are booked,” said Arundhati Chavan, President of the PTA United Forum, a parent body.MHRD GUIDELINES FOR SAFETY OF SCHOOL STUDENTSGuidelines set by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) in 2014 regarding preventive mechanisms and procedures for institutionalising a system to ensure the safety and security of children in schools:(a) Get a security and safety audit done on the school’s premises and personnel by the respective local police station and follow the security-related advice for the safety of school children.(b) Install CCTV cameras at all vulnerable areas and points on the school’s premises and ensure they are functional at all times.(c) Schools must ensure that the police verification and psychometric evaluation is done for all the staff employed by the school. Such verification and evaluation for non-teaching staff such as bus drivers, conductors, peons and other support staff must be done in a detailed manner.(d) Ensure that the school’s support staff is employed only via authorised agencies and that proper records are maintained.(e) Constitute a parent-teacher-students committee to address the safety needs of the students and take regular feedback from parents in this regard.(f) Access to the school’s building and premises by outsiders should be controlled and visitors monitored.(g) Provide training and development to staff to address their responsibilities to protect children from any form of abuse.(h) Constitute separate committees for the redressal of grievances by the public, staff, parents and students. An Internal Complaints Committee on sexual harassment, committees under POCSO, and details of these committees along with contact details shall be displayed prominently on the school’s notice board and school website for information of all stakeholders.SEXUAL PREDATORS IN OUR MIDSTAugust 8, 2017
A peon was arrested in connection with the rape of a 5-year-old female student of a Malad school.
June 5, 2017
Trustee of a prominent international school was booked after parents of a few kindergarten students alleged that he sexually exploited their children.
January 8, 2016
Ten-year-old female student raped by a canteen boy in her Dadar school. Twenty-year-old accused, Somnath Yadav, was arrested on the same day. He is currently under judicial custody.
November 23, 2015
A Class IV student was allegedly raped by three teachers at a Mira Road school. The accused, Sanjay Patil, 47, Nilesh Bhoir, 47, and Jitendra Jadhav, 23, were released on bail.
September 10, 2015
A Class III male student was allegedly molested on several occasions by the school principal, Rosario Alphanso.
December 8, 2014
A five-year-old female student was molested by her teacher at a suburban school when she went to give him chocolates. He was arrested on the same day. LEGAL PROVISIONSThe Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012
Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000
Sections 375, 376, 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC)
Parents can approach the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) or the respective State Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (SCPCR)
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