Over the past two days, twin incidents of students getting assaulted in their school premises have been reported from the National Capital. Close on the heels of the gruesome murder of a seven-year-old in Gurgaon's Ryan International School by a bus conductor, a five-year-old was raped inside the washroom of a private school in East Delhi's Gandhi Nagar by a peon.
The news has sent shockwaves across the country, including Mumbai, which has witnessed similar crimes during the past two-three months. In August, the sweeper of a Kharghar school was held for sexually assaulting an eight-year-old student. A few days prior to that, another four-year-old girl was assaulted by her school's peon. In June this year, the trustee of a prominent Mumbai school was booked for raping a three-year-old student.
These incidents are a chilling reminder that our children are not safe anywhere anymore. So, what can be done to ensure their safety? Are there lapses in the security measures implemented by schools? How can parents prepare their children to ward off such predators? BT spoke to parents and school authorities across the city to answer these questions.
While they are obviously worried, most parents say that they feel helpless when it comes to ensuring their children's safety in schools. "It is really sad to see the increase child abuse incidents in schools. Earlier, I used to consider them as safe as home, but the reality is, our children are not safe anywhere. As a mother, I am extremely disturbed, but also feel helpless," says Nita Varma, an Andheri-based photographer, who has two kids.
Agrees Jasmine Kaur Chandok, a senior IT professional from Andheri, "These incidents are alarming. Quarterly audits must be done to check if schools comply with safety, hygiene and awareness norms. If they fail, their licence must be cancelled."
There are many who also feel that better security measures should be implemented. Manisha Sonawane, a teacher and mother of an eight-year-old boy, says, "As a parent, I always live in fear, as boys are as unsafe as girls these days. Apart from implementing strict security measures, schools should encourage parental involvement in administrative matters, as their presence might deter pedophiles. I personally feel that parents should make time to volunteer at their children's schools, no matter how busy they are."
Sunil Mattoo, a Goregaon-based businessman, adds, "School authorities should give an undertaking to the government that they will take every possible step to ensure the safety of their children and that their staff will be vigilant. CCTV cameras should be installed at every nook and corner of the school and any missing footage should be considered an offence. If there's any area that's left without CCTV coverage, it should be considered negligence, which should be punishable by authorities. Schools must make it mandatory to employ a team that will check CCTV footage live, thus ensuring immediate intervention. Also, every school should get their employees' police verification done."
Aparna Purohit (name changed), who has two kids studying in the Malad school where a peon had raped a three-year-old girl in early August, says that the school has implemented additional measures post the incident. "The school now has lady security officers, which does lend a sense of safety. While they had CCTVs earlier too, they have increased the number of cameras now. Also, now, only parents are allowed on the school premises, and that too only those with a valid ID card. However, they still do not agree to conducting the 'good touch, bad touch' workshop for kids despite parents insisting on the same."