The recent assault on a child in Kolkata's GD Birla Centre For Education, the unfortunate death of a 7-year-old in Ryan International School Gurgaon a few months ago, and many such rising incidences, have enraged and stunned the nation. It is even more disturbing to note that it takes untoward incidents to realise the enormity of child abuse –- and this is not a new phenomenon. While a lot is discussed on the issue, we need to emphasise on consistent and collective responsibility towards safety of our children.
India's seminal report on child abuse, published by 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 one or 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, were being subjected to one or other forms of sexual abuse. If we review the study which was done 10 years ago, in the current context, the study mentions that nearly 50% of over 12,000 children said they experienced abuse of some form at their schools.
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 to it has been reactionary at best, with accountability seen as the responsibility of only a few. Child safety is irrefutable, we, as a society, need to persistently remember that and most importantly, take equal responsibility to ensure its prevention.
Many measures have been taken to promote school safety by the government, and guidelines on prevention of child abuse have been issued by Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights, yet, there are 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.
HOW PARENTS CAN CONTRIBUTE TO MAKE SCHOOLS SAFER
Parents 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 Juvenile Justice Act that mandate 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: Parents must address any concerns or doubts regarding 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: Small changes in a child's behaviour could be signs of abuse and shouldn't be ignore. Talk about good safe and unsafe touch, listen to the child. Take what they say about behaviour of other's seriously.
SCHOOLS NEED A ZERO TOLERANCE POLICY
Every school must ensure that a basic child safeguarding code of conduct is in place and is prominently displayed in the school. Attention must be paid on stringent checks and verification of hired teaching and non-teaching staff of the school. School child protection committees can help the management ensure a safer environment. School should become a zero tolerance zone for child abuse and punitive measures must be taken against violation of school safety policy.
Child safety needs to be an inherent practice and not just an imposed policy. 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, 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 opinions expressed in this post are the personal views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of HuffPost India. Any omissions or errors are the author's and HuffPost India does not assume any liability or responsibility for them.)