The horrific CCTV footage of a maid assaulting a nine-month-old girl at a day care centre in Kharghar has proved the worst fears of worried parents right. The video has emerged as clinching evidence for nailing the maid and her employer. It shows the maid throwing the baby on the floor, tossing her around and kicking her. It was only after a major hue and cry that the police amended criminal charges filed against the owner and the help to add an attempt to murder charge. Earlier, the two were booked for voluntarily causing grievous hurt. The aggrieved parents also want the guilty to be charged under child protection law so that they do more time in prison.
It would be wrong to say that all day care centers resort to barbaric ways in dealing with the children under their care, but it is true that the parents who leave their loved ones in the care of relatively unknown people, do share a serious concern as to what treatment their children are meted out when they are away at their respective workplaces.
Widen preventive measures
It was the CCTV video that prompted state women and child welfare minister Pankaja Munde to act fast in this matter. To begin reforms, she made installing CCTVs at all day care centers and crèches mandatory. She also assured strict action against the culprits. But Munde should widen the preventive measures and the process of framing regulations for the mushrooming business, which is conducted without any approval or licence from the government. Talking licenses may sound regressive to the people who do not like a permit raj, but one should understand that we are dealing with the precious lives of babies.
While Munde declared some immediate measures, her departmental secretary was quoted in the media as saying that the state would adopt a policy that was being framed by the Centre.
But who knows about the time the Centre needs to get its policy finalised? Should the babies of Maharashtra continue to face brutality in absence of any strong regulation? The state must have some adequate norms in place to check the menace.
The department can involve local police and respective municipal corporations in making and implementing the policy as early as possible. Activists in the field of child and women welfare, essentially in urban areas, have been demanding regulations for day care centres and crèches because of a growing number of nuclear families.
The trust factor
In many cases, housewives operate day care centres from their homes to support their family income. Generally, they look after the babies from their own housing complex. The trust factor here is always better than the day care centres that are run on a commercial basis by a person (mostly a woman) whose family has adequate resources to get into a lucrative business that is run from a rented flat or a commercial place.
I have kids in my housing society who frequently ask their mothers to take them to their favourite aunty (day care operator) even when they are no longer in her care. Your neighbourhood should also have such examples.
So, it wouldn’t be misplaced if we asked the government to ensure that the owners and employees running the day care centres are trained and have skills as per their job profile.
If a previous employer of the Kharghar maid is to be believed, then the culprit had a history of mistreating children. Screening of employees and assessment of their physical and mental health becomes mandatory.
Regulate playschools too
Another commercial venture that the government should think of regulating along with day care centres/crèches are the equally mushrooming playschools (pre-nursery schools). Most of them are run unprofessionally by people who don’t understand basics of child psychology that a trained teacher is taught in the colleges.
We should admit that the government and the parents would be unable to change a particular person’s mental make-up. Whatever said and done, jobs like day care (child care) would always need some human traits — the passion, empathy and love for children.
But we can always make a sustained effort to force unfit people leave such a sensitive profession before they do major damage — mental or physical — to the children under their care. Alert parents can contribute significantly to this effort by putting their respective day care centre under the scanner by exposing ill practices, if any. This should be practised irrespective of the government rules and regulations.
Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets dharmendrajore. Send your feedback to email@example.com