The shocking discovery of sexual abuse of a six year old in a school in Bangalore, Karnataka recently has led to an undeniable need for a Child Protection Policy in schools. The safety of children has become a crucial point of discussion across the country. To keep children safer is everyone’s responsibility. Organisations and professionals who work with children must ensure that their policies and practices reflect this responsibility in order to ensure effective mechanisms to prevent violence against children and ensure safety for children and detect such infringements in schools.
Ravi, a runaway child, age 10, arrived in Mumbai. He did not want to go to school. His right leg was deformed due to polio in his infancy. He hated being called ‘langra’ (cripple) by other children. Stories like these are common to schools across India. This should not be the case as schools are expected to be spaces free from discrimination and conducive to learning (The Everywhere Child Project .A child friendly place in every space)
Every person in the education service plays a role in keeping children and young people safe. Building a secure learning environment, identifying pupils who are in distress or at a risk of harm and then taking suitable action are vital to ensuring children are safe at school at all times is critical. Children in school spend a large part of the day with their teachers who play a significant role in their lives. Many of them are role models for the children as well as for the community. If trained to be sensitive to the vulnerabilities of children, teachers can play a key role in detecting, acting on and preventing child protection violations both at school as well as in the community. It has also been widely reported that the presence of female teachers positively influences retention of girl children in schools. In this section the study takes a look at schools to examine teacher student ratios, presence of female teachers and the availability of training in child protection.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) defines child protection as the “strengthening of country environments, capacities and responses to prevent and protect children from violence, exploitation, abuse, neglect and the effects of conflict.” Following this decree education systems have an important part to play in realizing child protection as children spend a significant amount of their childhood in the school environment, which is the next influential setting for the child after the family.
Schools must mandatorily create and implement a Child Protection Policy and must efficiently include child protection into their processes, curriculum and staff recruitment. Bringing in the concept of child protection in education systems can lead to essential changes in the ways schools function, children’s behaviour when attending school and the method in which teachers or school authorities interact with children.
The Everywhere Child Project -A child friendly place in every space, released by CHILDLINE in 2011, points to the need for the articulation of a set of child protection standards to be adhered to in spaces that a child enters: one such space being schools. A nation-wide consultative process was undertaken, during which, civil society experts came together to evolve child protection standards. Through the study it was revealed that only 10% schools reported having a Child Protection Policy while only 1% schools have a sexual harassment policy. This National Study on Child Protection Mechanisms echoes that it is the responsibility of the schools to have a written child protection policy as schools are considered one of the safest places for children.
Some other key findings of the survey pertaining to Schools:
Only 4% of the schools provide filtered water to children.
77% schools provide non-filtered water to the school children.
19% of schools did not provide any water facility for the children.
86% of schools have a first-aid box available for emergencies; 14% of the schools surveyed had not even the most basic facility of a first-aid box to deal with a medical emergency.
Over 60% of the schools have a teacher-student ratio that is better than the desired measure of 1:30; 64% of schools have a favourable gender ratio with more female than male teachers.
More than 90% schools reported the presence of a female teacher.
Less than 2% of schools had school counselors.
Only 12% of the respondents (the principal) have undergone any training in child rights and child protection.
92% government schools reported the existence of a PTA as compared to 74% private schools.
3% of schools reported having grievance committees for issues relating to SC/ST and human rights issues, 2% for gender discrimination and 4% for issues related to corporal punishment.
Keeping the above findings in mind, every school should be required to create a child protection plan which should cover all factors like school transport, medical facilities, physical infrastructure, toilets, staff training and forms of punishments and abuse.
The Child Protection Policy of a school must be made freely available to all children, staff, parents/ guardians and the public. Every Child Protection Policy must furthermore comprise – a policy statement; code of conduct; a whistle blower policy; implementation guidelines and it must have clear accountability resting with a key stakeholder of the school with a child friendly version made freely accessible to children. It is also imperative that orientation to children and staff on the Child Protection Policy must take place. The Child Protection Policy is the minimum standard every institution must adopt. It is also an important part of the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (DCPCR) guidelines, which states that both parents of students and the teachers have to sign guidelines to ensure a safe environment when the child joins a school.
Building a protective net around children is the responsibility of all members of society whether directly charged with the care of children or not. A Child Protection Policy in schools is an attempt to extend child protection beyond the legislations pertaining to children and will go a long way in keeping children safe from many dangers. It is indispensable for every school to have a child protection policy that ensures child safety, and that guides school management to dispense justice and take all necessary action if and in case of any violation of child rights.