Ryan murder: Onus lies on schools to ensure safety of kids
Any school with even an iota of concern for the safety of its pupils, would be aware of the risk of abuse that young children face at school and during travel to and from the school and the innumerable cases of molestation that have come to light in recent years.columns Updated: Sep 11, 2017 00:04 IST
Usually, while choosing a school for their children, parents look at its academic record. They now need to change this criteria and look first at the school’s safety record and its compliance of child safety laws and guidelines. The gruesome murder of a seven-year-old child at Ryan International School in Gurgaon on Friday underlines this.
What’s absolutely shocking in this case is the callous negligence of the school in allowing adults, including school bus drivers and conductors, to use the washroom meant for children. By doing so, the school put the safety of young children who studied there at risk. And sure enough, the young boy became a victim of a sexual predator- the bus conductor- who slit his throat when the child resisted his attempts at sodomy.
Any school with even an iota of concern for the safety of its pupils, would be aware of the risk of abuse that young children face at school and during travel to and from the school and the innumerable cases of molestation that have come to light in recent years. Even in July this year, a three-year-old girl in Bengaluru was sexually abused by the school van driver while being dropped home. In March, a 10-year-old girl was sexually assaulted by the school bus driver in Pune. In February, a playschool in Bengaluru came under fire following a shocking discovery that an office assistant was molesting tiny tots on the pretext of taking them to the washroom.
Given these incidents, it is common sense to ensure no one other than the children entered the toilet. In fact parents demonstrating outside the school on Friday told television channels that they had complained about all and sundry using the children’s washroom in parent-teacher meetings but the school paid no heed.
Even if the school was not sensitive enough to understand the risks, there were clear guidelines from the Gurgaon police on the issue, which it blatantly and contemptuously violated. The guidelines for safety of children in schools issued by Gurgaon police are one of the best on the subject and several clauses deal specifically on the issue of washroom safety. Forget allowing access to bus drivers and conductors to children’s washrooms, it even prohibits their entry in the school premises or loitering near the toilet and entrusts the job of ensuring this through various measures, including CCTVs , to the vigilance officer of the school. I wonder if the school even had a vigilance officer?
The school ignored guidelines on checking the antecedents of employees when it hired the conductor. And how did he bring the weapon into the school bathroom? The conduct of the school vis-à-vis pupil safety should be probed thoroughly and stringent action taken for violations. So long as this is not done, schools will continue to ignore child safety. The school in Ghamroj that sacked this conductor for his ‘sexually predatory behaviour’, but failed to report it to the police as required under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, should also be prosecuted.
Following the rape of a six-year old child in a private school in Bengaluru in 2014, government agencies issued child safety policies and guidelines. But schools continue to flout them. We need to have one common, comprehensive guideline for all schools in the country to follow. There should be stringent punishment , including closure of schools, for violation. It is equally important to empower and educate parents, so that they demand strict compliance . Schools that do not protect the children on their premises (or during travel to and from school) have no right to exist.