Child sexual abuse in Bengaluru: Political lethargy is making kids unsafe at school

Is POSCO adequate to address abuse within educational institutions?
Child sexual abuse in Bengaluru: Political lethargy is making kids unsafe at school
Child sexual abuse in Bengaluru: Political lethargy is making kids unsafe at school
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On January 27, 2017, a slew of media reports alluded to yet another instance of Child Sexual Abuse in a Bengaluru-based school.  The perpetrator this time was the principal of a prestigious city based Kendriya Vidyalaya, one Kumar Thakur.

The facts that emerged after the case was filed were damning, and have unearthed a gory tale of alleged habitual abuse within the school by Thakur. A Bangalore Mirror report suggested that the school counsellor would draw out lists of vulnerable students for the principal, who would then schedule “counselling” sessions for these students.

During the course of one such counselling session with the 17-year-old who went on to report him, Thakur allegedly advised the girl to use sex toys to relax, made inappropriate references and even told her that he had “taken the virginity” of many young students.

The conduct of the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sanghatan, soon after the incident was reported, is worth scrutinizing. The suspension of Thakur was only facilitated after an enquiry committee was hurriedly constituted under the Prevention of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Act. Prior to this, the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sanghatan had simply sent Thakur on 15 days’ casual leave, and were in fact contemplating transferring him to a school in Karwar. In the absence of POCSO outlining specific protocols, Kumar Thakur was able to re-enter the premises of the school to threaten and intimidate staff and students, therein re-victimizing the survivors within the premises of the school.

While the Internal Complaints Committee of the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sanghatan has since suspended Kumar Thakur, this incident points to a larger trend of children of being sexually abused within educational institutions. Similar incidents of abuse perpetrated by teachers have been reported from Bhopal, Mumbai, Aurangabad and Hyderabad in the last month alone. The abuse of children within educational institutions posits a unique challenge, which the law currently only ambiguously addresses.

POCSO’s Inadequate Redressal of Abuse Within Institutions

The main legal instrument used for incidents of Child Sexual Abuse in India is the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO Act). As it currently stands, POCSO only very limitedly addresses incidents of Child Sexual Abuse perpetrated in educational institutions. Section 9 (f) of the Act mandates that sexual abuse or assaults by management or staff members of educational institutions constitutes aggravated sexual assault, and is liable for punishment in jail for between 5 to 7 years and also a fine.

POCSO, however, remains silent on the procedure to be followed by the institution to suspend such staff members, and the liability of school managements who have, through neglect of duty, allowed such abuse to perpetrate within the institution. In the KV case, the faculty members and the harassed girl had to reach out to the ChildLine helpline, which points to the absence of any clearly defined protocol under the POCSO Act to create a safe environment for children within schools.

Worryingly, the incident in the Bangalore based KV comes less than a year since the highly lauded Karnataka State Child Protection Policy, which delves into painstaking detail about the concept of “safe schools”, was published and notified. The KSCPP 2016 mandates that all schools in Karnataka establish specific mechanisms to ensure safety in educational institutions including the formulation and notification of an Educational Institution Child Protection Policy, the curation of a customised Model Safety Checklist for each school, the conducting of awareness, guidance and counselling programs within schools and the creation of “strong and clear reporting mechanisms” for students who want to report incidents of abuse.

However, despite the policy being notified, ambiguity persists with regards to its legal binding on schools within Karnataka state. How many schools in Karnataka now have an Educational Institution Child Protection Policy in line with the policy? Has the Department of Education allocated adequate funds to schools for the implementation of this policy? Can the Government or any of its departments taken administrative action against schools that have so far not put in place the EICPP?

These are questions that the Karnataka Government will now need to answer, if it is in fact serious about ensuring the safety of its children.

Child Protection as a Political Priority

While the POCSO Act and the Karnataka State Child Protection Policy are both examples of well-intentioned, progressive policies, they are impeded by the lack of political will to ensure their effective implementation.

The Karnataka Child Protection Policy, though notified is yet to receive a budgetary allocation to ensure its implementation. Similarly, the issue of inadequate budgetary allocations for children from the centre towards child protection schemes is an issue that Child Rights activists have continued to raise now for several years.

At the heart of the issue, therefore is a persisting political lethargy. It is now time for both the central government and the state governments to allocate the funds required to instate effective mechanisms that ensures the safety of children within educational institutions. This can only happen once child safety is seen as a political priority. Until such time, India’s children shall remain vulnerable within their own schools. 

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