After two cases of sexual assault on children emerged from a renowned school in Hyderabadâs old city area last month, concerned parents in the Telangana have put together a set of guidelines, which they hope to work on with schools to ensure child safety.
Formed about three months ago, the Telangana Parents' Association for Child Rights and Safety, after consulting with experts in the fields of activism, child rights and counselling, has come up with guidelines such as educating the school staff on Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, involving parents in monitoring safety measures in school, including personal safety education and sexuality education in schools and so on.
Mohammed Asif Hussain Sohail, the president of the Association, tells TNM that it was the sexual assault cases last month that compelled parents to become more involved in their childrenâs safety. âWe have about 11,000 parents from across the state who want to be onboard to prevent untoward incidents happening to school children and also to break the culture of silence, which prevents children from reporting such incidents,â he says.
âParents want to work with the school management to enforce measures such as installing CCTV cameras, periodic checking of studentsâ bags to ensure they are not carrying dangerous items or weapons, ensuring that children know about personal as well as internet safety and publicising information like the Childline number 1098,â he adds.
Why parents want to get involved
Fatima, a parent to a 13-year-old, joined the Association about a month ago. âEvery parent is becoming more and more concerned with growing instances of sexual abuse and even violence among students in schools,â she observes. âSchools say that parents are part of the school, and that we are partners in ensuring childrenâs development. We want to take them up on that and be actively involved in ensuring that the school is doing all they can to protect our children.â
Mohammedâs three children study in the same school where the two child sexual assault cases were reported last month. He agrees that this is a growing sentiment among parents. âThe education department takes their own sweet time and is often inaccessible. Thatâs why we want to work with school management and the police department now,â he says.
Apart from the measures that they want to suggest to the school management, a major feature of the guidelines includes parental visits to the school. The idea is to have a different parent come every few days for an hour or so. This person will either observe one or two classes. Mohammed hopes that homemakers will be able to take some time out for this. And since there are many students in a class, he believes this will help working parents also to participate as they would only have to come once, for not more than an hour, in a few weeks or so.
âOne parent will visit the class for about an hour on a day. They will be observers, but this will serve as a reminder to the school that someone who is a direct stakeholder is watching, and will prevent neglect and lapses in security,â Mohammed says.
He adds that apart from ensuring background checks on the teaching and non-teaching staff in schools, they also plan to design a self-assessment test that teachers and staff would be encouraged to take. And with help from the Hyderabad city police, they hope to implement these guidelines as well. âEventually we want to set up toll-free numbers and an online forum for children and parents to talk about the issues at schools as well. As children have access to social media and the internet, a forum such as this may help them talk about any untoward incidents they have faced without revealing their identities,â he says.
Fatima says that while the guidelines have been prepared, they are yet to make an official representation to the schools.
TNM went through the three-page document detailing the guidelines the Association wants schools to adopt. Here are some of the salient features.
- Ensuring supervision especially for younger children by having caretakers in corridors and some teachers being on indoor as well as outdoor duty during breaks and recess.
- Ensuring main gates are manned so that no child leaves the campus without prior note or permission, controlling entry of private vehicles, checking IDs of bus/auto drivers who pick up or drop the children.
- Implementing âno touch policyâ in school transport and on school trips. Having only female attendants in buses. Installing GPS in buses and discouraging change in routes apart from designated ones.
- Having both male and female security guards, taking special measures to ensure safety if children stay back extra hours for coaching, such as locking the classrooms and washrooms other than those being used. Having regular checks on electrical equipment and regular fire safety drills.
- Training staff on provisions of the POCSO Act. Displaying Childline number 1098 prominently in different parts of the school.
- Teaching children about personal safety like safe and unsafe touch, internet safety and also educating them on issues like smoking, drinking, bullying and emotional abuse. Teaching them correct names of body parts, encouraging them to speak to a trustworthy adult.
- CCTV cameras to cover various areas in the schools with TV monitors in various offices. The Association hopes to collaborate with the city police to implement this.
- Educating children about âstranger dangerâ like not accepting anything from strangers, sticking to the group, not giving personal details to people they do not know and so on.
- Discouraging people from loitering in parking cars outside the school fence.
- Guidelines for parents like teaching children their name, phone number and address. Having monthly meetings between parents and management that will be separate from PTA meetings. Having a âSecurity Clubâ, where ideas and discussions on security would be the focus.
The Telangana Parents' Association for Child Rights and Safety is associated with the Sakina Foundation, which works on various social issues related to gender, poverty and trafficking.
It should be noted that while measures such as having CCTV cameras appear attractive and do keep a check on untoward incidents like abuse and corporal punishment, they could end up curtailing children's freedom and could be used to punish them for minor mistakes as well. Experts say that parental involvement in schools to create a community to ensure children's safety, open dialogue and teaching children about personal safety and reportage are effective measures to prevent incidents of abuse.