Saturday 23 September 2017 News Updated at 07:09 AM IST
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Needed: norms for safety in schools - Deccan Herald
Needed: norms for safety in schools
DH News Service,
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News headlines last week presented chilling images of a school system gone horribly wrong across the country. A seven-year-old was murdered in a high-flying 'International' school in Gurgaon; a five-year-old was raped in a classroom in West Delhi; an 11-year-old girl was made to stand in the boys' toilet as punishment for not being in uniform in a Hyderabad school; and a student in Bulandshahr, UP, was held in classroom for four hours after school by the principal because his parents had missed the fee deadline. The images have evoked large-scale public outrage and forced authorities to take some tangible action. It is important that we do not forget these images as soon as some token action is taken against individuals or the television news cameras move away to another story. The abuse of children in schools must stop, and that can happen only when parents, schools and the government all put their heads together to address issues of child safety within school campuses.

Perhaps, it must start with parents taking another look at their priorities when it comes to choosing a school for their child. Many schools advertise their "world-class facilities." However, there is no assurance that school authorities and staff take upon themselves the responsibility of the child entrusted to their care. More important than air-conditioned classrooms is whether the school premises are safe for a child. Vibrantly painted walls may be attractive, but it is more important to observe whether the railings in the corridors of the upper floors are placed too low for safety, whether window grills are designed well to keep small children from falling through them. Parents need to persist and ask, what are the preventive measures in place to ensure child safety in the school, to what extent are they followed, who is accountable for lapses.

Merely reacting to incidents of child abuse will serve little purpose. Rather a prior system must be in place that has zero-tolerance for child abuse and neglect of child safety issues. The Right to Education Act (RTE) prescribes norms for recognition of schools. However, by way of safety, the only condition schools are required to follow is "arrangements for securing the school building by boundary wall or fencing" and providing separate toilets for girls and boys. That's not enough to ensure the safety of children. As a first step, the RTE law should be amended to include a set of non-negotiable child safety requirements for schools, with a mechanism to ensure its monitoring and compliance. A school that is incapable or unwilling to guarantee child safety must not be allowed to function.