Child safety guidelines: At what cost?

Child safety guidelines: At what cost?

Child safety guidelines: At what cost?

Stringent child safety guidelines issued by the police and education departments are now under fire from the school managements. Terming the new rules unrealistic, uneconomical and framed without consultation, they have collectively sought a relook. 

For years, Bangalore had basked in its self-proclaimed comfort zone as a “safe city.” Repeated attacks on women and children in recent years severely dented that reputation, hitting a new low with the ghastly sexual attack on the six-year-old school girl. But are guidelines issued to schools in apparent hurry without consultation or multi-agency coordination the solution?   

School managements across the city are crying foul. They allege the guidelines were framed without taking views of the stake-holders concerned. Managements, teachers and parents were kept out of the loop, they say. But the city police commissioner, MN Reddi is clear that the guidelines, issued under the Karnataka Police Act, 1963, are valid and should be implemented by schools to avoid prosecution.

The bone of contention is mainly financial. The police guidelines, applicable uniformly to all schools, insists on compulsory installation of Global Positioning System (GPS) and CCTVs in all school buses, scores of such cameras within the school premises, appointment of Floor Vigilance Officers and lady attendants.

Under the umbrella of the Karnataka Private School Joint Action Committee (KAP-JAC), the managements have stoutly refused to implement the new rules unless they are consulted. Their contention: CCTVs cost over Rs. 20,000 to Rs. 30,000 per vehicle; GPS cost even more. So does the recruitment of more staff.

Heavy financial burden

KAP-JAC chairman, LR Shivarame Gowda himself manages five schools, with a combined fleet of 150 buses. He says, “Besides the police guidelines, the Education department has given us 42 guidelines, and there are six more issued by the Transport department. If we were to implement all these, our burden would run into crores of rupees.”

Gowda estimates that equipping 100 buses with GPS, CCTVs and lady attendants will alone incur a cost of about Rs 1.2 crore per annum. Staff recruitments and other installations within the school will add another Rs 2 crore. “Inevitably, we will have to pass on this burden to the parents. But, even after implementing all these new rules, will the rapes and other assaults stop happening?” he asks.

However, the police are dead serious about holding the schools responsible for crimes within their premises. Notes Addi­tional Commissioner of Police, Crime, Pronab Mohanty, “The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012 and Section 23 of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 are very clear that the moment the child is in their (schools’) custody, safety becomes their responsibility.”

The police, says Mohanty, cannot look at the costing. The priority is the child’s safety, and precautions to avoid incidents that jeopardise his/her well-being. “The guidelines are advisories, something that is desirable. It is left to the schools to plan how best to implement them. If there are problems, they are always free to talk to the top officials.”

Unrealistic uniformity

The clubbing of all schools to impose uniform rules is another issue that has ruffled managements. Explains KAP-JAC general secretary Shashi Kumar D, who also runs the Blossom school in Bagalkunte with over 2,000 students: “About 30 per cent of the schools are low-budget, catering to low income groups with monthly fees not exceeding Rs. 500. Another 30 per cent run with annual fees of Rs. 5,000 to 15,000. A third category of schools has fees ranging from Rs. 40,000 to Rs. 1 lakh.”Only about five per cent of the schools could be dubbed “very elite” with fees in the Rs 1 lakh to Rs 15 lakh” range.

Kumar contends that with such a range and financial implications, uniform rules can never work. “Take the case of my school. The annual fee is around Rs. 8,000 per annum. Appointing Floor Vigilance Officers for each one of the school’s 10 floors would mean an additional expenditure of Rs. 85,000 every month! It is easy to have guidelines on paper.” 

In its own set of guidelines formulated jointly with the Women and Child Welfare Department, the Education department has mandated that all schools register details of their teaching and non-teaching staff with the local police. Managements are okay with this, provided the police complete the process within a reasonable time on a nominal fee. They insist that verification should be done at the station, where the staff should be treated with due respect. Besides, the verification report has to be communicated in writing to the schools. 

Contentious rules

The schools are also required to set up child safety committees, comprising the institution head, a teacher, a parent, an expert, and child and security representatives. During emergencies, the guidelines require schools not to leave a minor girl child alone with male staffers. Managements contend that this will not always be possible. Also problematic for them is the rule that girl students and women staff should be dropped at their doorsteps. Reason: Inaccessibility of many houses due to narrow roads.

Despite the misgivings however, the guidelines have pushed many schools into upgrading their already existing infrastructure. The Vagdevi Vilas school, for instance, has reintroduced the system of a lady staffer accompanying pre-primary students in the buses. CCTVs that were installed at the entrances of all the three school buildings are soon to be upgraded. As a senior teacher informs, the school management has issued strict instructions to all that any untoward incident should be reported to the police.

Preferring anonymity, the teacher feels it is the institution’s responsibility to give full support to measures that will boost child safety. In line with the education department’s guideline that students be taught about good touch and bad touch, many schools have launched video screenings for students in Class 5 and above. “We have also conducted meetings with the housekeeping staff, transport staff and other personnel to discuss the issues,” the teacher informs.

Overlooked issues

But there are other issues beyond CCTVs and GPS that are overlooked by these guidelines, points out Dr. Ruchi Gupta, a psychiatrist. In any case, the CCTVs in every remote corner of the school will not be of much use if they are not monitored in real time by a dedicated staffer, she notes. Even in school buses, mischief mongers could always hoodwink the cameras and commit the crime. 

The monopoly of men in physical instruction should end, she says. Since many women are now entering the field, schools should have a 50:50 share of male and female physical trainers and sports teachers. For pre-primary students, an assistant teacher should be assigned to check a child’s long absence. “If a child doesn’t return in time, such delays should be immediately reported. For, the child could be in a place where she should not be.”