Counsellors help east MCD crack down on sexual assault against primary school kids
HT has accessed the report submitted by EDMC to the Juvenile Justice Committee of Delhi High Court in May this year. It mentions that 227 instances were detected between August 2018 to April 2019. Read on to know more...Updated: Dec 16, 2019 11:11 IST
Counsellors working with primary schools run by the East Delhi Municipal Corporation (EDMC) have, through extensive interactions with students, managed to unearth over 240 instances of sexual abuse suffered by pre-teens that have led to the arrests of at least 18 people since August last year, according to several people familiar with the matter.
HT has accessed the report submitted by EDMC to the Juvenile Justice Committee of Delhi High Court in May this year. It mentions that 227 instances were detected between August 2018 to April 2019, of which 16 were turned into first information reports (FIRs), and three cases are under trial in courts. Further, since May to December this year, 15 more instances were found, which led to two more FIRs, said officials. EDMC officials said that in many of these instances, cases could not be lodged as the families refused to register a formal police complaint.
The corporation runs 368 primary schools — nursery to Class 5 — with a total student strength of 171,449 in areas such as Seelampur, Tahirpur, Sundar Nagri, Nand Nagri, Jaffrabad, Welcome, Usmanpur, Kalyanpuri, Mandawali, Gamri, and others. Most of their students come from unauthorised colonies and jhuggi-jhopdi (JJ) clusters.
Last year, the public health department of the corporation appointed 52 female counsellors, on the directions of the Juvenile Justice Committee (JJC) of the Delhi high court, to speak to minor girls about health care, menstrual hygiene, and “good touch, bad touch”.
As the counsellors grew closer to the pre-teens, aged between 9 and 11, they uncovered horrible stories of sexual abuse and molestation, often by relatives and family friends.
“We first got directions for such an exercise from the JJC in 2013 after the December 2012 gang rape incident. The members were shocked to see the brutality unleashed by a minor and their level of knowledge regarding sex and erasing evidence,” said Dr Ajay Lekhi, deputy health officer (DHO), EDMC.
“That is when the JJC asked us to do a survey in 40 most vulnerable areas, and subsequently, appoint school EVGCs (emotional vocational guidance counsellors), each of whom hold a Master’s degree in psychology. Since then, we have detected in total 242 instances and got 18 FIRs lodged,” said Lekhi.
The FIRs were lodged in police stations in three Delhi Police districts — Shahdara, East and Northeast. When asked about the cases, EDMC officials said they could not produce specific details as the FIRs were reported across different police stations in varied police districts.
Rajkumar Ballan, EDMC’s education committee chairman, said the counselors detected several cases, but in many the family refused to get a police case made.
“We have a tie-up with ‘Childline’ of the Union ministry of women and child development which takes over the case once the EVGC has reported it to us. The Childline team summons the parent(s) or guardians and asks them if they wish to get an FIR registered. A lot of times, the case falls because the parents are fearful of social stigma or more harm to the girl,” he said.
Several cases have been unearthed since the conversations began, said officers. Most recently, according to the report, on December 5, a Class 5 student gave a statement in writing to the school’s EVGC that her paternal aunt’s son has been molesting her. On November 24, when another Class 6 student testified that she was raped by her father and brother.
EDMC officials said deputy commissioner of police (East), Jasmeet Singh, has been working with them to file cases against the culprits and rehabilitate victims.
“Our investigating officers (IOs) are well-versed with the Pocso (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) Act, and we have held sessions with them on how to assist EDMC’s school counsellors. Plus, we keep updating the IOs on latest court directions as well,” Singh said.
The counsellors who have been working with the children say they face many challenges. “The parents of many of our students are illiterate and have an old-world mentality. They don’t understand child sex abuse and have complained to the principals that our classes must be closed,” said Alpana Dwivedi, an EVGC who works with EDMC.
Alpana said she has reported 17 such instances since August 2018. “We had a case where a counsellor went to lodge an FIR regarding a religious preacher who was molesting girls when they went to him for evening tuitions. Several people from that community gheraoed that police station in protest and our EVGC and senior EDMC officials had to run for their lives,” said Mahima Mishra, another EVGC with the east corporation.
Dr Neelam Lekhi, chairperson of the Indian Medical Association (IMA), which has prepared several modules on identifying child sex abuse for teachers and counselors, said prevention of such crimes is critical to maintain the “social fabric” in any country. “Boys, who are abused at a young age, are known to display tendencies of sexual violence later in life. Girls, who become victims, are rarely able to heal completely. Thereby, it’s the utmost priority of all governments to ensure the children are safe,” she said.
EDMC additional commissioner Alka Sharma said the corporation has taken the court-mandated exercise seriously and doing its best to take it to every child. “We are routinely holding awareness workshops with the parents as well,” she said.