Following the incident of two minor girl students complaining of sexual assault at a tribal boarding school in Buldhana in Vidarbha, the Maharashtra government is formulating a comprehensive policy for protection of tribal children studying at boarding schools across the state. It aims to protect tribal students from any abuse, harm and exploitation. Under the policy, more responsibility will be put on school management. The head of the school is obligated to report any case of child abuse to the local police station, child welfare committee and the respective project officer. The district collector will have to conduct periodic inspection of tribal boarding schools to ensure protection and safety of children. It also proposed to appoint a child protection officer selected by the students.
Under the policy, a government-appointed panel or agency would assess and certify the boarding schools for compliance of the policy. The panel will have members from the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) along with an official of the (tribal) department concerned to ensure fair and impartial assessment. However, the policy draft is silent on action to be taken in case of its violation.
Rajagopal Devara, secretary, tribal development department said the policy is yet to be finalised. “The government is taking help from institutions such as The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) that has prepared such a policy for the country. We are also roping in some NGOs working in this field for the same,” Devara told HT.
A school management committee (SMC) will also function as the Child Protection Committee (CPC) for tribal boarding schools and carry out the mandate of prevention and response to child protection issues, thereby making them more responsible, says the draft. While the CPC will also be represented by two additional members, one from the village child protection committee and a residential female staffer for girls and male for boys, elected by the children, and appointed as the Child Protection Officer (CPO).
The CPC has been made responsible for addressing all incidents of child abuse that are directly or indirectly related to the school. It is also expected to cooperate with the police, judiciary and local administration in the investigation and to review its work every three months, said a senior government official.
He said the CPO will play a key role in case such an incident took place at a tribal boarding school. The CPO will have to receive all complaints of child abuse, verbal or written, and ensure confidentiality. He has to write a case file and maintain records, coordinate with the police and local authorities and facilitate training of school management committee, school personnel, children and parents on child rights.
Most importantly, the CPO will have to ensure the school does not attempt to cover up the incident, influence the child’s parents or guardian, said the government official.
The rape case of a 10-year-old girl studying in a government-aided tribal boarding school in Khamgaon tehsil of Buldhana has sent shockwaves across the state after a Class 4 student complained of a stomach ache. This happened when she was home for Diwali vacations. The Buldhana police filed a second FIR in the case last Saturday, after another girl, a Class 4 student, came forward to complain about sexual assault by the school’s sweeper. The state government has cancelled registration of the boarding school.
The draft policy further suggested more visits by external committees and legislator’s committee to the tribal boarding school by making the visits more frequent.
The policy is based on reviews of other child protection policy documents, including the Karnataka State Child Protection Policy, and various national and international legal provisions of care and protection of children.