Let’s Talk About Child Abuse | Bullying is the first sign of abuse, says school principal
In Part 2 of HT series Let’s Talk About Child Abuse, principal Jyoti Bose says schools must remain vigilant against any form of bullying and abuse.india Updated: Sep 28, 2017 10:51 IST
I am scarred,
I am barred.
To talk about it,
In places I sit.
Alone I am with the ravages of use —
From my own kin, the child abuse…
I am dark, I am afraid,
By my own friends betrayed.
My colour is the cause of my abuse
For this crime do I have to bruise?
I am a child with hopes and dreams,
I don’t want to hear wails and screams.
I deserve the best that can be,
Dear all, won’t you listen to me?
The words “child” and “abuse” don’t go together, yet society has juxtaposed them through its depravity and moral turpitude. Children have been exploited through history and have been subjected to extensive physical, sexual abuse and neglect.
According to the women and child development ministry, 53% of our children are victims of abuse. Most of the sexual abuses are cases of incest and children are shamed about their apparent acquiescence and the havoc it will wreak on their parents, the guilt and fear of com- ing out into the open is very prevalent.
Poverty, age, gender, caste, lack of safe spaces and lack of proper institutional care, make a child prone to all forms of abuse. I write as the principal of a private school, since I represent one and the key question is: are schools safe places? Creating a safe learning environment is the job of the school where all stakeholders play a part in keeping the young protected from any form of abuse.
In 2010, the late Justice Leila Seth wrote a book for children about the Preamble to the Constitution. She wrote in the introduction: “We believe that being a good citizen is very important and therefore we should understand the Preamble to the Constitution.” She also wrote about the rights of a child to safety, dignity, the right to live without fear, and the right to happiness.
When I look at the reality today my heart bleeds. Have all of us done our homework in our schools? Have we understood children’s rights and developed pro-social behaviour so that we may sensitise children about lurking “predators” and “strangers”? Do we have counsellors trained to talk to children to identify signs of abuse? Do we have a child protection policy in place alongside a proper disciplinary committee to deal with problems that may escalate into more serious issues?
I firmly believe that the beginnings of abuse are manifest in some form of bullying at the school level: verbal, cyber, emotional and physical. A strong anti-bullying policy and campaign needs to be introduced among all age groups. Some children bully others without knowing the hurt that it causes. All children have the right to go about their daily lives without the fear of being threatened, assaulted or harassed. A school must be committed to ensuring that antisocial behaviour that harms others will not be tolerated. In diverse classrooms as we have today with students from economically disadvantaged groups and those with special needs, bullying takes on racial and homophobic forms and it can also be based on disability, gender, appearance or circumstance. Also, cyber bullying has become the accepted vehicle of intentionally hurting another child.
The school must have an inbuilt mechanism whereby all personnel remain vigilant about bullying behaviour and approach it in the same way as a category of child abuse. Staff must be aware of vulnerable students or those coming from troubled families. All known cases or incidents of bullying need investigation and correction when parents are brought in into the investigation for corrective purposes.
So, how do schools create a harmonious student environment? Class assemblies, citizenship lessons, anti-bullying weeks, e-safety days alongside a strong student counsel and prefect body are essential to mitigate the first signs of child abuse or bullying at the student level.
- A background check must be conducted on all new hires, to ensure they have no record of questionable behaviour. Candidates who have criminal records of violence should not be recruited for any position within an institution.
- Schools should train teachers to recognise suspicious behaviour, red flags, create a safe environment for students, and legal recourses in cases of untoward incidents.
- Schools should adopt a zero-tolerance policy towards child abuse.
- There should be a counsellor in every school. Confidentiality must also be maintained by these personnel.
- Schools must have child abuse monitoringcommittees, which should include two students.
- At least one woman guard should be in each bus, until the last child is dropped off.
- Buses should wait for a caretaker to pick up the child.
- Authorities must regularly check to ensure that the guidelines are being followed.
The recent crimes against our children have shocked the public conscience and many of them have taken place in schools. It is no wonder that parents are obsessed with the safety and security of their children during school hours — something they used to take for granted. Each school has been told to have a safety audit and a child protection policy — and the CBSE, government and police are flooding schools with circulars. Why do we have to wait for something vile to happen before we start taking precautions? There are certain mandatory safety precautions that should always be in place with an estate team that works alongside the management and staff.
In my view there has to be a true partnership between schools and parents. Parental involvement in children’s education is one of the biggest predictors of their happiness and success. School parent-teacher forums and parent-teacher meetings are an effective way to voice concerns and issues as well as for parents to know the expectations of the school.
Recently, a parent suggested that we use an RFID (radio frequency ID) for children since it would be convenient for parents to track their kids when they are in school and buses. Have we got to that level of suspicion that we want to invade children’s privacy by making them wear a microchip?
Schools must pursue the well-being, happiness and safety of children who are so precious to us. We, after all, are their custodians alongside their parents.
As Italian sculptor-painter Leonardo Da Vinci wrote: “An arch consists of two weaknesses which, leaning one against the other, make a strength.”
Dr. Jyoti Bose is the director of Springdales Schools, New Delhi, Dubai and Jaipur and the Principal of Springdales School, Dhaula Kuan. A Sociologist of Education, she has been the Principal of her school for over thirty years.
This is the second part of HT series #LetsTalkAboutChildAbuse. Join the conversation on @htTweets and send us your ideas and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.