Sodomy, molestation, rape. When caretakers in school emerge as perpetrators of such crimes far too often, there’s no doubt that there’s something seriously sick with the way schools operate. Following the latest incident in which a 10-year-old child was allegedly sexually abused by his teacher, the school manager and a third person for several months, Minister for Women and Child Development Renuka Chowdhury has set up an inquiry. It was only after a medical examination that the parents realised the child’s trauma. That schools are no longer havens of security is something we’ve known for a while now. The unfortunate part is that between the school management and the minister, there are at least five ineffective layers of administration that cannot slap into shape a workable system of deterrence. It is a testimony to the inefficiencies in the system that it takes action at the level of a minister to draw attention to such a crime. In spite of which, shockingly, two of those arrested are back in school. What is to stop them from repeating their abusive practice?
The steady rise in reports of sexual abuse of students by teachers and staff is not specific to any region or socio-economic factors. From the premier schools to the dilapidated government shacks and the mercenary small-time private shops, students are vulnerable to those in authority. And it is not only sexual and physical abuse that children may have to face. In another poignant incident, a school’s management and parents are locked in battle over the attendance of a child who has to carry a catheter because of a disability. The school is refusing a place for the child on the grounds that other children are getting traumatised by the sick child’s discomfort.
It is an appalling reflection of the state of our school system that we can neither afford children security, nor provide facilities suitable for children with special needs. There is little point harping on universal education if we can’t protect children from those who can harm their mental psyche for life. The school is the crucible in which young minds are honed for adulthood. An enabling and safe atmosphere is crucial to achieve this.