A 7-year old boy found with his throat slit, a 5-year old raped in the washroom, a 3-year old assaulted by a bus-cleaner, and a 4-year old allegedly sexually assaulted by two teachers. The chilling common denominator for all these crimes is that they all occurred on school campuses.
The National Crime Records Bureau reports that in 2015, 8,800 cases were filed under the POSCO Act (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences), the law dealing with sexual assault on children. That is on an average, a case registered every hour, and in 94.8% of the cases, the children identified a known person as an attacker.
Now, the cases may not be classified where the alleged assaults took place, but children spend around 8 hours a day in school or travelling to or from it, so the probability is anyone’s guess.
Reactions to these horrific incidents are knee-jerk. In Bengaluru, the city police directed schools to install CCTV cameras. School vehicles were fitted with GPS devices, and school management was advised to carry out thorough background checks on authorities.
Again, these measures vary from city to city, and state to state. Now, the nodal department has stepped in, and drawn up a safety and security manual for all schools, outlining necessary measures that they must implement to prevent sexual crimes against children.
Some salient features of the safety manual drawn up by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights are:
1) Compulsory presence of attendants in washrooms.
2) Categorisation of schools on the basis of infrastructure.
3) Installation of CCTV cameras, based on the number of students in the institute.
4) A comprehensive and structured procedure to appoint teachers.
5) Strict hygiene standards for authorities in schools.
6) Accountability of the management to ensure the above, as well as other regulations, are implemented.
In addition, the Commission has written to all the Educational Boards in India, for newly-selected candidates to provide affidavits to their employer-institution, to prove that they have not been accused of any offence under the POSCO Act and Juvenile Justice Act.
The Commission had also released recommendations on the Proposed New Education Policy in 2016. Theme 14 in that report deals with the framework and guidelines for ensuring school safety and security of children. It mentions comprehensive safety in school to cover the following aspects:
1) Prevention of corporal punishment, and mental or physical discrimination.
2) Emotional bullying, cyber-bullying, ragging and harassment.
3) Precautions against playground injuries, field trip mishaps, and picnic accidents.
4) Child friendly languages and actions.
5) Empathy and precautions against physical abuse, substance abuse and molestation.
The manual has been compiled using recommendations of various agencies and organisations, including the Ministries of Human Resource Development and Drinking and Sanitation, as well as the Central Board of Secondary Education, as well as the child safety policies followed by different states.
While there have been many recommendations and checklists for parents, to detect whether their child has been assaulted or not, there is no cohesive rule-book of standards for schools.
The safety manual by the Commission could very well be the beginning of standardisation of security measures across schools in India.
When a child gets assaulted, the issue immediately becomes huge, with different sides getting polarised. The authorities then come up with changes and recommendations. The safety manual by the Commission depends on a proactive approach, rather than a reactive one.
The Commission takes into account the behaviour of school authorities. Of the opinion that the administration of the school is responsible for the conduct of its staff, the manual also mandates that the police must verify all staff.
Priyank Kanoongo, a member of the Commission, told The Telegraph, “The manual makes it clear that there must be police verification of the staff appointed by a school and the management would be held accountable for any lapse on the part of the teachers.”
This comprehensive manual should be adopted and implemented immediately by all schools across the country. Preventing sexual crimes against children should be the priority. Stuti Narain Kackar, Chairperson of the National Commission, told the Metro, “The manual spells out what the management of a school needs to do in no uncertain terms. We are ready with the manual and will be submitting it to the Union Human Resource Development ministry next week.”
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In addition to providing washroom attendants and CCTV security, schools should also have a Child Abuse Monitoring Committee and a quick grievance-redressal system for students, should they ever feel the need to speak to someone.