The safety of children at schools has once again come under the scanner following the alleged sexual abuse of a three-and-a-half year old girl at an upscale pre-school in Madhapur. According to the complaint filed by the child’s mother with Madhapur police on April 10, two women helpers inserted stones in her daughter’s private parts. While prima facie, there is no evidence of sexual assault, police have confirmed that a case under relevant sections of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act has been registered. Both the accused are still being questioned by the police and no arrests have been made so far. “This is nothing but lack of care and protection and failure on the part of the school in conducting psychometric analysis of their staff and teachers. They recruited bad staff and seem interested to only make money without offering care and protection. The accused should be arrested immediately and the school should be shut down,” asserts Andhra Pradesh Child Rights Protection Committee President, P. Achyuta Rao. While school authorities agree that constant checks and vigilance is the key to ensure the utmost safety of students, parents are horrified that their child could be exposed to such dangers at a place they spend the most time in after their homes.
Safety is paramount
Security audits are a must, says Skand Bali, Principal of Hyderabad Public School. He says, “It is very unfortunate and alarming that society at large and schools in particular are becoming unsafe for children.” On what measures should be taken to ensure childrens’ safety, Bali says, “We need to do background checks of all our staff and regular psychometric tests to see their mental health status. All corners of the school premises must have CCTVs and security while office bearers, admin heads and principals should be on regular rounds.” Further, he adds, “There has to be a redressal mechanism or class teachers and counselors looking out for early or urgent signs of distress. Schools also need to have regular meetings with parents to be able to look at things in a more detailed and holistic manner.”
The National Crime Records Bureau reports that in 2015, 8,800 cases were filed under the POCSO Act (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences), the law dealing with sexual assault on children. This means that on an average, a case is registered every hour, with children identifying a known person as the abuser in 94.8 per cent of the cases.
Preventive measures are a must
Children spend around eight hours a day in school or travelling to and from it, so the probability is anyone’s guess. But B Janardhan Reddy, Secretary for Education, Telangana, suggests, “We should have some preventive measures in place to stop the crime beforehand. Further, police verification of staff appointed by the school is a must and the management should be held accountable for any lapses that occur.”
Keep schools safe and secure
Underlining the necessity of having ID proof of all staff, educationist Shagun Ali explains, “Schools are supposed to be safe places for children. When parents send their children to school, they obviously want their child in a safe and secure environment. All staff and caretakers appointed by the schools should submit their identity proof to make sure that they are credible people. A copy of the identity card should also be submitted to the area police station.
Inputs by Joyeeta Basu...