The recent, unfortunate death of the 7-year-old student at Gurgaon’s Ryan International School has enraged and stunned the nation. However, what is even more disturbing is that it takes the death of a child for us to realise that the issue of child safety is real and that it is not a new concern.
While a lot has already been said on the issue – and as we await the Supreme Court hearing tomorrow – I would like to emphasise on our consistent and collective responsibility towards the safety of our children.
India’s seminal report on child abuse, published by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, Prayas, UNICEF and Save the Children in 2007, states that “across the country, every second child was being subjected to other forms of sexual abuse and
every fifth child was facing severe forms of sexual abuse.” According to this study, out of 12,447 child respondents across 13 states, more than half (51%) reported being subjected to one or the other form of sexual abuse.
The study further mentions nearly 50% of the school-going children interviewed said they were sexually abused.
These statistics are disconcerting – and the fact that they are a decade old goes on to show that while the issue has been persistent, the attention given to it has been reactionary at best, with accountability seen as the responsibility of only a few. Child safety is irrefutable. As a society, we need to persistently remember this – and most importantly, take equal responsibility to ensure it.
Government’s responsibility – comprehensive school safety (child safety) policy a non-negotiable for schools
While measures have been taken by the government to promote school safety, and guidelines on prevention of child abuse have been issued by the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights – there are still no stringent legal obligations for schools to follow these guidelines.
A comprehensive school safety policy must be made mandatory for all private and public schools across the state. The policy should include all parameters of safety for children – including code of conduct and verification of staff.
Parent’s responsibility – contribution in making the school safer for children
Parents can play a critical role in contributing to the safety of all children:
Know your child’s rights – Parents must be aware of the school safety policy, and laws such as the Prevention of Child Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act and the Juvenile Justice Act, which mandates every institution (whether residential care or educational), to adopt a child protection policy. Parents can take up the responsibility of sharing information related to child safety.
Be involved with the school – Address any concerns or doubts you have regarding the safety of children in the school premises with the authorities. School management committees and parent-teacher associations can play a crucial role in helping the school maintain and monitor the standards of safety.
Be vigilant to the tell-tale signs – Do not ignore small changes in your child’s behaviour that could be the signs of abuse. Talk about good safe and unsafe touch, and listen to the child. Take what they say about the behaviour of others seriously.
School’s responsibility – schools to be a zero-tolerance zone against child abuse
School safety guidelines – Every school must ensure that a basic child-safeguarding code of conduct is in place and prominently displayed in the school. Attention must be paid on stringent checks and verification of hired teaching and non-teaching staff in the school. School child protection committees can help the management ensure a safer environment. The school should be a zero-tolerance zone for child abuse – and punitive measures must be taken if the school safety policy is violated.
Child safety must be inherent in practice and not just an imposed policy – Schools must ensure that they become a zero tolerance zone against child abuse in any form. While it is important to have safety guidelines in place, it is critical that schools create an environment which inherently evokes the mandate of child safety.
While they say it takes a village to raise a child, I feel it takes a nation to raise them safely. They are our responsibility and we cannot afford to fail them. So let’s make child safety everyone’s business!
The author has been working on child rights issues for the last 10 years and is currently with the Advocacy, Campaigns and Communication team at Save the Children India.
If you are a survivor, parent or guardian who wants to seek help for child sexual abuse, or know someone who might, you can dial 1098 for CHILDLINE (a 24-hour national helpline) or email them at [email protected] You can also call NGO Arpan on their helpline 091-98190-86444, for counselling support.