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Metro Matters: How to secure children in Delhi? Let’s hear it from them

According to SaveLife Foundation, 46 children are killed in road crashes every day in India, many while going to school. Delhi government has finally decided to formulate a policy to secure children on their way to school

columns Updated: Aug 21, 2017 17:34 IST
Shivani Singh
Shivani Singh
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Children in Delhi,Safety of children,Shivani Singh
Children in Delhi are threatened by not just traffic, and violence, but also pollution, overcrowded living conditions and general civic apathy.(Saumya Khandelwal/HT Photo)

It raised some eyebrows when SBS, an Australian TV channel, ran a documentary in September 2015 on how Japanese schoolchildren, as young as seven, travelled long distances on public buses and trains, and even ran errands for their parents, all by themselves.

How could these parents feel so confident about sending their kids out alone? Didn’t they worry about their safety, traffic or criminals lurking around, many wondered.

Subsequently, an article in City Lab explained that besides low crime rates, it was the small-scale urban sprawls, and a culture of walking and public transit use, that fostered safety and the perception of security among Japanese parents.

The Japanese are used to walking every walkable distance, and public transport is preferred over cars. In Tokyo, half of all trips are made by rail or bus, and a quarter on foot. Drivers happily share road space with pedestrians and cyclists, the article said.

Ask any old-timer and they will tell you how once parents in Delhi didn’t count “school runs” among their daily chores. Children could just walk to their schools, private tuition classes or sports practice, which was usually within a walking distance. Even those who took the school bus, pretty much managed on their own.

This was before too many cars and encroachments on walking space infringed on our right to mobility. Now, even as adults struggle to commute safely, our young ones are the most vulnerable on city streets.

According to SaveLife Foundation, 46 children are killed in road crashes every day in India, many on their way to school. Road crashes kill six times more children and adolescents than all crimes against them put together.

But it was not until last week that the Delhi government decided to formulate a policy to secure children on their way to school. The last time when anyone got worried about school transport was 20 years ago.

In 1997, 29 students from Ludlow Castle School were killed after their overloaded bus skidded off the bridge and plunged into the Yamuna. The apex court then made it mandatory for schools to ensure their buses followed speed limits, and always had a teacher and safety gear on board.

But thousands of mini-buses, vans, autos and e-rickshaws that also transport schoolchildren remained off the radar. Crashes involving reckless drivers who pack in too many children, speed and violate other traffic norms remain common. But that is just one aspect of Delhi’s child-unfriendliness.

As the quality of life degenerates, children in the city are threatened by not just traffic, and violence, but also pollution, overcrowded living conditions and general civic apathy.

Our cars have occupied the spaces where the young ones used to roam. With poor upkeep, their playgrounds have turned into death traps. Last year, Delhi ranked fourth among all Indian states in crimes against children.

Unsurprisingly, many families are now shifting to gated communities in the suburbs because these offer swimming pools, tennis courts, gyms, and play areas within secured premises. But the access is limited to those who can afford to pay the charges. In the ungated neighbourhoods, kids are best secured indoors.

Children are a kind of indicator ‘species’, said Enrique Peñalosa, the mayor of Bogotá, Colombia, who is known for his inspiring ideas on how to run cities. “If we can build a successful city for children, we will have a successful city for all people,” he said.

Delhi, which has the highest child population among all metros in India, should have long made child-friendliness a priority. Consulting voters before penning down elections manifestos is the latest fad amongst our political parties. It is perhaps time to also consult the children on their demands.

In Ventanilla, Peru, a pilot scheme introduced in 2008 allowed children and adolescents to submit proposals to obtain funds for projects they choose to implement, according to a Unicef report.

In Nairobi, Kenya, adolescents have helped generate information for development projects. In Johannesburg, South Africa, 10 to 14-year-olds from poor neighbourhoods have identified risky areas and suggested improvements.

Now that the government has decided to discuss the safety aspects of school transport, it won’t be a bad idea to get some young consultants on board. If we are serious about securing their future, let the youngest stakeholders have their say.

First Published: Aug 21, 2017 13:35 IST