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Harm away from home

The high-level inquiry and offer of compensation will do nothing to alleviate the unbearable loss suffered by the parents of the five children who died in a stampede in a Delhi government school on Thursday.

india Updated: Sep 11, 2009 08:38 IST

The high-level inquiry and offer of compensation will do nothing to alleviate the unbearable loss suffered by the parents of the five children who died in a stampede in a Delhi government school on Thursday. What makes it worse is that they lost their lives trying to run to safety following rumours that their waterlogged school was electrified by a loose connection. Many questions arise. Why were children allowed to run helter-skelter unsupervised? Why were they in a waterlogged school in the first place?

If this can happen in the showcase Capital of India, the plight of children in government schools, especially in inclement weather, in other parts of India must be frightening. The safety of children is meant to be a priority for schools but judging by the Indian example, this is not so by a long stretch.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court was moved to say that no new government, or private, school would get affiliation if its buildings did not have fire safety precautions in place and was not earthquake-resistant. Instead, today we have a situation where at least 42 per cent of schools do not have even basic sanitation facilities. This puts children, especially the girl child, at serious risk from those preying around schools. Indeed, not so long ago, a schoolchild was molested when she was trying to use the open-air toilet.

Children being left behind and locked in and having to step straight out of school onto the roads are par for the course in India. Teachers are either absent or simply not interested in the well-being of their little wards. Within schools themselves, there have been numerous cases of teachers punishing children to the extent of causing serious injuries or even death.

A few years ago, a fire broke out in a Tamil Nadu school in which over 94 children died simply because the school neither had fire-fighting equipment nor adequate exits. These safety measures cannot be implemented in a piecemeal fashion after a tragedy has occurred. They have to be part and parcel of the blueprint when a school is granted permission to be set up. These are some areas where the government has the power to exercise greater control and vigilance. What worse trauma could parents face than to wave their children goodbye as they leave for school and then learn that they will never return? This is unacceptable in any society. We can very easily ensure that no one ever suffers this fate if only we put in place basic safety measures which will cost little but will save the lives of the most precious of our assets — our children.