The murder of an eight-year-old at Ryan International School in Bhondsi near Gurgaon has put the focus back on safety of children within schools.
Investigations have pointed to lapses in security and safety measures that could have prevented the murder at Ryan. Earlier this year, Hindustan Times ran a series, ‘How Safe Are Our Kids’, diving deep into how schools could address lurking dangers.
Here are five key areas of focus:
According to the National Crimes Records Bureau (NCRB), 15,039 children were identified as victims of assault under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act in 2015. Of these, 8,800 cases were filed under sections 4 & 6 of the Act – dealing with penetrative and aggressively penetrative sexual assaults respectively.
In 8,341 cases, the attacker was known to the child.
From constituting special counselling teams to address issues related to child abuse to teaching children about “bad and good touch”, and encouraging them to speak up if anything untoward happens to them – schools need to step up and take action. Registering staffers with police, limiting access for outsiders and establishing child protection committees are other ways to tackle and prevent such incidents.
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School children continue to die every year despite the issuance of strict guidelines by the Supreme Court in the aftermath of a horrific accident in 1997, when a school bus plunged into the Yamuna from a bridge at Wazirabad in Delhi, killing 28 students of a government-run school at Ludlow Castle.
Twenty years later, not much has changed. Though government data says Delhi has 2,468 school buses and around 500 vans, officials believe the number could be over 3,000 because many schools and private cab owners continue to operate vans and buses without permits. Last year, the Delhi traffic police penalised the owners of 1,160 school buses and vans for not possessing the requisite permission.
Guidelines for school buses include, among other things, a ‘school bus’ label with name and number of school, not exceeding 50 kmph speed, having an escort from school travel in the bus etc.
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Schools must conduct safety audits at least twice a year, say experts. A draft checklist prepared by educational consultant Ambuja Iyer, includes aspects such as fire safety, security, disaster preparedness.
Fire exits should be located at convenient points, while students and teachers should be aware of the evacuation plan. The safety audit should also involve measures to prevent accidents, including banisters and rails along stairway and corridors.
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Of all the risks children face online, cyber bullying or use of social media to embarrass or humiliate others, is most familiar and remains unchallenged. Posts uploaded for fun or in retaliation have caused serious damage to the target in the past.
In 2015, a class 12 student of Chhatarpur in Bundelkhand region of Madhya Pradesh allegedly committed suicide by shooting himself. Police probe revealed that Sandeep Sen was upset about a video uploaded on social media that showed him getting thrashed by some people. Police said he ended his life as he could not bear the humiliation.
According to Teens, Tweens and Technology report 2015 by cyber security firm Intel Security, at least one in every four children surveyed across metro cities said that they had been bullied online. A Parliamentary Standing Committee also acknowledged in its report on cyber crime in 2014 that cyber bullying was more prevalent than other perils of social media.
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Even though the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009, prohibits ‘physical punishment’ and ‘mental harassment’ under Section 17(1) and makes it a punishable offence under Section 17(2), majority of the teachers in Indian schools still believe in the old saying, spare the rod and spoil the child.
The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) which has more than 18000 schools affiliated to it across the country issues regular advisories to all the schools to sensitise the staff regarding corporal punishment. In letters to schools, CBSE highlights the fact that RTE Act has framed strong rules against corporal punishment, defining it as physical or mental harassment as illegal and punishable under sections 17(1) and 17(2).