In what can only be described as a stop-gap and reactionary solution to the increasing anger among parents regarding the lack of safety measures in schools to protect children from sexual predators and other untoward incidents, the North Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) has come up with a unique solution: send girls to washrooms in pairs.
The circular was sent to all NDMC schools to this effect on Thursday, 14 September, reported Hindustan Times.
"We have asked school principals to send at least two girls to the washroom at a time, so that in case of an emergency, one of them can raise an alarm," HT quoted the mayor of NDMC, Preety Agarwal, as saying.
The circular has been issued in wake of the gruesome murder of a seven-year-old child in Gurgaon's Ryan International school. A school's bus conductor was able to enter the school with a knife, follow the child into a washroom meant for students, slit his throat, and slip out — undetected.
Within days of this shocking incident, several other cases of child abuse within schools came to light. On 9 September, news of a five-year-old girl raped by a school peon in Delhi surfaced. A few days later, on 13 September, a four-year-old Bengaluru girl was allegedly sexually assaulted while at school.
As cases emerge, there is mounting pressure on schools and government bodies to declare stricter security measures to prevent such incidents from occurring.
However, sending girls to bathrooms in pairs is not just a short-sighted solution, it is a problematic one.
First, it reinforces the belief that only girl children are vulnerable to sexual predators. According to a 2007 study by the Women and Child Development Ministry of India, 53.22 percent Indian kids reported that they had experienced some form of sexual abuse in their lives. Among the victims, 52.94 percent were boys. In addition to being shrouded in secrecy due to the conservative nature of our society, the problem of child sexual abuse (CSA) is further complicated when we continue to ignore a half of the at-risk group. So even if schools were to implement the directive to send children to bathrooms in pairs, there needs to be uniform implementation, covering both boys and girls.
Second, it is not a long-term solution. Telling kids to accompany each other to the bathroom is a measure designed to fail. In the absence of technological intervention, expecting teachers to ensure that children are always going to the bathroom in pairs is an impossible task. Once the dust settles and the heated conversations about safety of kids quietens to a murmur, it is safe to assume that this makeshift 'rule' will be quickly abandoned.
And finally, branding such a move as a solution takes the heat off schools from making other arrangements— practical, long-term ones — on a priority basis. What schools need is strict monitoring of who enters and exits the school, working CCTV cameras in all parts of the school to prevent unauthorised personnel from coming near kids, more security personnel around the school, educating kids about good and bad touch, and, most importantly, strict multi-layer background checks with police verification and character references for all teaching and support staff in the school.
Unfortunately, the NDMC circular says nothing about installing CCTV cameras, posting guards on the premises or creating programmes to educate kids about CSA.
However, not all is lost. Some of NDMC's directives to its schools, if implemented, could actually make a tangible difference in keeping children safe.
The civic agency has also decided to separate the toilets for staff and students so that no adult can use the toilet meant for kids.
According to the circular:
- School principals will be responsible for ensuring that no student is left alone with outsiders and a register must be maintained for recording the movement of all outsiders, who will be allowed entry only with the principal's permission.
- No guards or sanitation workers should be allowed on the school premises after duty hours and they cannot be provided lodging on school grounds.
- School gates and unused classrooms/areas should be kept locked and checked before and after school hours.
- Random inspections by deputy commissioners of each district to ensure that NDMC directives are being implemented.
- Strictly separate toilets for student and staff members.
- No vendors to be permitted to sell eatables close to the school.
- First-aid kits to be made available in all schools and teachers ought to be trained in using them.
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