Mumbai schools beef up security after Ryan school murder but will it be enough?
Billabong High International School, Santacruz West, has upped security measures in the wake of the attack. The authorities have started conducting random checks on their premises. Pic/Satej Shinde
In the last one week, the Bhayandar office of A-Check Global Solutions has been inundated with phone calls from harried school authorities requesting their services. The US-based agency, which has branches across the country, is an employment-screening organisation that conducts background checks, digs out education history and criminal records (if any) of prospective and existing staffers. "Till about four years ago, we'd approach schools with the concept and be turned down because they never felt the need for such services," says Ravi Gupta, senior manager, corporate sales.
That changed in 2014 when a skating instructor at a Bangalore school was accused of sexually assaulting a six-year-old student. More recently, after the two horrific incidents earlier this month — murder of seven-year-old Ryan International School student Pradyuman Thakur, allegedly by a bus conductor in Gurugram on September 8, and the news of rape of a five-year-old by a school peon in East Delhi the next day — that panic has struck.
Sujata Kate, principal of Sundatta High School, a Marathi-cum-English medium school at Tardeo, holds a class on child sexual abuse for students. Pic/Suresh Karkera
'Screen all staff'
It's not just the capital that's reeling under attacks. Mumbai, too, has seen a series of incidents. In early 2015, the case of a 12-year-old girl from a reputable Dadar school who had been periodically sexually assaulted by a bus cleaner in the school's toilet came to light. In 2013, a four-year-old girl was molested by the cleaner of her school bus. But it's not just class IV employees who have been accused of these crimes. In June this year, the principal of a private school in Andheri East was arrested for allegedly molesting two minor students.
"To think it's only contractual staff that's responsible for this is plain wrong. Which is why we have conducted a background check of all 500 employees across our schools in Kandivli and Malad, including teaching and non-teaching staff," says Rohit Bhat, principal of the Children's Academy. Bhat outsources this responsibility to an agency and shells out Rs 900 per staffer — this involves getting a police clearance certificate and ensuring each has a valid identity card. In 2014, Bhat had CCTV cameras installed in the school including the parking area, which are monitored at all hours.
Billabong High International School, Santacruz (West), has also upped security measures recently. Principal Kusum Kanwar says the school has appointed a security guard in the bus, along with two lady teachers. The guards at the gate have also doubled. Kanwar says the management is now making a conscious effort to go around the premises conducting random checks. "We have a team of counsellors as part of our Centre of Well Being programme. They conduct regular sessions with students to gauge their mental state. We have beefed up that team," she says. While Billabong has security in numbers — it has between 12 to 20 students per class and employs two teachers per class — not all schools have the privilege.
Ramesh Joshi, general secretary, Brihanmumbai Mahapalika Shikshak Sabha (BMSS) is appalled at the lack of attention being paid to security in municipal-run schools. "Previously, there was a system of bai-cum-caretakers who would double up as security guards, but the municipal corporation discontinued their appointment four years ago," he says. Instead, the BMC has appointed contract staffers from private companies.
"They are paid barely Rs 6,000 a month, when our caretakers would earlier get to up to Rs 14,000. Under such circumstances, they are bound to be negligent. In their attempt to downsize and pocket the money, they have put the children at risk," he says.
Discerning the bad touch
The fact that the issue is gaining steam is evident in the fact that Bengaluru resident Amrapali Dhaware's petition on Change.Org (India) to make schools safe, which barely had a couple of signatures till last month, now has 2,36,673 supporters. "I was inspired to start the campaign after a peon at Seth Juggilal Poddar Academy in Malad raped a four-year-old last month. My demand was for more safety measures," she says, adding that the campaign barely got traction initially. Addressed to HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar and Anil Swarup, Secretary, Department of School Education and Literacy, the petition lists a set of rules (see box) which she believes should be made mandatory in all schools.
Ensuring that children learn to raise their voice against abuse is also becoming important.
Sujata Kate, principal of Sundatta High School, a Marathi-cum-English medium school at Tardeo has lowered the age when it comes to imparting lessons on good touch and bad touch. It now starts from Std 1. The school also regularly invited NGOs and women police constables to talk on the topic.
Rohit Bhat, Principal of the Children's Academy
Prevention a priority
Social activist Indrani Malkani makes an important point — CCTV camera footage would work as evidence when a crime is committed or that counsellors can help detect a crime. Can something be done to pre-empt them?
"Background checks can only reveal if the person has a criminal record, and if it's unreported, you wouldn't even know that. That's why you need psychological profiling as well. The more I know about you, the better I am able to know what you would do in a specific situation. While you can't ever predict a person's behaviour with 100 per cent accuracy, profiling the emotional and mental aspect can help ascertain certain characteristics. It is a preventive measure."
* CCTV cameras should be installed in all places (corridors, washroom doors, classrooms, staircases) along with close uninterrupted surveillance (by staff and parent committee)
* No adult should be allowed to use the washrooms dedicated for kids, except for the assigned attendants
* Background checks and police verification of all the staff members (teaching/non-teaching, male/female) must be made available to parents
* Outside workers (such as labourers) must not be allowed in the campus during school hours
* Child Abuse Prevention Committee should be appointed including staff and parents, to tackle local issues. Such committee members should be allowed to make random visits
* Children (right from pre-primary levels) should be given basic education related to child abuse in the language that they understand. For example, telling them about their anatomy, safe and unsafe touch, etc.
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