Guwahati,

Are our schools safe for children?

Are our schools safe for children?

 By Indrani Medhi

A school is revered as a temple of learning and is therefore considered sacred. Parents send their children to school with a lot of expectations. The parents have faith in the school management and the staff and rest assured that their children are in safe hands. But each time their confidence gets shaken up. Nothing can be termed more tragic than the plight of the parents having to receive the listless body of their child or a child molested and raped, who was happily sent off to school in the morning. Safety in the schools can mean life and death in many situations. The most important question today is that why are children not safe in schools in our country? 
A wide range of sex related crimes are perpetrated against children ranging in ages from around 4 years to 14 years old. After the recent rape of a 5-year old student by the school peon inside the washroom of the school premise in Gandhinagar, East Delhi, the gruesome murder of a 7-year old student in Gurugram by a bus conductor, the sexual assault of a 6-year old in a school in Bangalore by a school staff member, and more such heinous incidents, we wonder how safe are schools in India today. It is surprising that staff members of school brazenly assault the children sexually and rape them in the school premises during school hours.
A child is a creation of God, an innocent, helpless and harmless creature. He/she knows that he/she will not be prone to any harm as long as those who care for him/her are around. A child does not have anything to do with violence, rape, terror or any other evil. Then why do young, innocent school children become such soft targets? Why can we not guarantee their safety while they are in a temple of learning?
We are all born with a blank page, which slowly fills with life experiences that shape us and who we are to become. We are strongly influenced by our upbringing, which serves as the foundation for the pages of our own unique life style. If we are brought up with anger, negativity, beatings and rejection as the norm, then we are subject to a vicious cycle of violence. We may grow up thinking that's the way that we should be, into an aggressive adult who may even be aggressive to children or show negative behaviour. The global prevalence of child sexual abuse has been estimated at 19.7% for females and 7.9% for males. Most sexual abuse offenders are acquainted with their victims; approximately 30% are relatives of the child, most often brothers, fathers, uncles, or cousins, around 60% are other acquaintances, such as friends of the family, babysitters, neighbours, school staff members, etc. Strangers are the offenders in approximately 10% of child sexual abuse cases.
Now what can be done to ensure a fair amount of safety for our children? In order to make schools safe for our children, CCTV cameras should be installed in all places and corners of the school premise like corridors, stairways, classrooms, rest rooms, etc. No adults should be allowed to use washrooms meant for students. Outside workers such as labourers must not be allowed to work in the campus during school hours. Self defense classes should be made mandatory for all students. A child abuse prevention committee should be appointed in every school including school staff and parents to tackle issues. There should be student counsellors to talk to every child on a regular basis. Parents should also educate their children on sexual abuse. While it can be a tough task to explain the difference between a good touch and a bad touch to a kid, it is important for parents to teach their kids a few things so that they are aware of what is happening around.
Anyone found guilty of harming children, whether they are staff members or not, should be severely punished if found guilty. Investigation and punishment should be immediate to have a deterrent effect. At the same time children should not be made to feel that they are being sort of 'imprisoned' within their schools which can create a fear in the minds of the children. Safety measures that have been put into place should be explained carefully and meaningfully to the children, so that they are able to appreciate that whatever is being done is in their own interest and safety. Understanding the behaviour and mentality of sexual predators is also equally important. If we can understand their 'why', perhaps then we can start to find a solution to the 'why' about child abuse.