A spate of assaults and accidents involving children in schools across India took the nation by shock in 2017. Along with these incidents, it is even more shocking to realise that child abuse in schools is not a new phenomenon. It is however, being increasingly reported and discussed. This creates the need to give the children of India access to consistent safety. This is a matter that requires India’s urgent and immediate attention, without which the noble goals envisaged by the Right to Education act stand compromised.
India child abuse in the school context
As per a 2007 report on child abuse, published by Ministry of Women and Child Development, Prayas, UNICEF and Save the Children, “every second child was being subjected to one or other forms of sexual abuse and every fifth child was facing severe forms of sexual abuse” across the country. Over half (51 percent) of the respondents of the study of over 12,000 children said that they were being subjected to sexual abuse. Further, 50 percent of the children said that were experiencing some manner of abuse at their schools. However, despite these findings coming to light 10 years ago, attention paid to this issue of school child safety has been reactive, and missing in depth. Child safety is enshrined in the United Nation’s prescribed list of child rights. We must therefore act towards the prevention of child abuse.
The government’s role in addressing child safety at schools
Guidelines have been issued in the past on promoting school safety. However, what is missing is accountability, in the form of stringent legal obligations for schools. It is important to establish a mandatory school safety policy that is common across all private and public schools, one that include all parameters of safety for children, including code of conduct and verification of staff.
Parents role in ensuring school safety
There are many ways parents can do their bit to ensure their child’s safety at schools.
i. Knowledge of rights and policies: They must be aware of their school’s safety policy, as well as and laws such as the Prevention of Child Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act and Juvenile Justice Act. These laws mandate that mandate every institution, residential or educational, must adopt a child protection policy. Parents must internally discuss, and share information related to child safety among themselves.
ii. Deep involvement with schools: Parents must bring to the school’s attention any queries or doubts regarding safety of children during school hours, with authorities. The maintenance of safety standards is something that school management committees and parent-teacher associations are both responsible for.
iii. Vigilance: Sudden changes in a child’s behaviour can be due to abuse, and must not be ignored. Speak to them about good and bad touch, listen to them regularly, and assess what they say about others.
Schools must have a transparent and stringent safety policy
Schools must display their basic child safeguarding code of conduct prominently in public areas. Regular checks and verification of hired teaching and non-teaching staff is essential. Schools must also administer a zero-tolerance policy for child abuse, including bullying and harassment of any kind.
Child rights NGO Save the Children is deeply engaged in providing comprehensive safety to children in all walks of their life, including during their school hours. It has partnered with Nokia for a program of effective disaster management, including school safety plans. This includes its Making Schools Safer covering 50 schools in Delhi and 2 lakh people. The NGO also works to sensitise schools to show concern for the girl child, through focus on gender-sensitive curriculum and study material. To further the NGOs ability to provide child protection to schools across India, donate to NGO fundraising. You will receive a substantial donation tax rebate and the feeling of having done your bit.