Teachers and non-teaching staff members working in 150-odd Christian schools in Mumbai have been asked to submit character references that will prove that they are suitable to work with children. They have been asked to sign declaration forms with the names and addresses of two people who can vouch for them, as part of the new child protection policy of the Archdiocesan Board of Education (ABE).
This has piqued the teachers who have been working in the schools for many years. “After 25 years of service in the school, giving character references seems odd,” said a teacher from a Mahim school. “The institution should vouch for old employees and ask new ones to sign it."
Father George Athaide, secretary of the ABE, said, “We have framed this policy in the light of the recent cases of child sexual abuse and harassment in schools. It has been promulgated by Cardinal Oswald Gracias.”
Teachers have also been asked to sign a child protection code of conduct stipulating that they should not use inappropriate language or behaviour, which is harassing, abusive, sexually provocative, demeaning or culturally inappropriate or use mobile phones, video cameras or social media to exploit or harass children or access child exploitation material through any medium.
“They have also been asked to disclose all charges and convictions that occurred before or during their association with schools,” said Athaide. “And not invite children to their home if they are unaccompanied, unless it is an emergency.”
Child monitoring committees will also be set up in each and every school to take measures to protect children and prevent child abuse. A mental health professional and a non-government organisation or a person working in child rights will be its members along with management, staff and a Parents-Teachers Association (PTA) representative. At least one member will be a woman.
The committee will inquire into alleged cases of child abuse, examine the child and the witnesses and recommend action against the abuser. It will also have to inform the parents of the child within 24 hours of receiving the complaint and provide counseling to the child.
Other codes of conduct for child protection for ABE schools:
* Treat children with respect regardless of race, colour, gender, disability or other status
* Wherever possible ensure that another person is present when working in proximity of children
* Do not use physical punishment on children
* Do not hire children as domestic labourer or any other work
* Immediately report concerns or allegations of child exploitation and abuse