Prioritise child safety, not costs

Children waiting by their private school van after school on Residency road in Bengaluru. DH Photo/Janardhan B K

It is a pity that convenience and cost rather than safety determines the decision of many parents to send their children to school by unauthorised private vehicles rather than authorised school buses. As per official figures, while there are 12,203 registered buses run by educational institutions in Bengaluru, an estimated 25,000 unregistered vehicles ferry lakhs of children to school. Supreme Court guidelines mandate school buses to be equipped with fire extinguishers, alarm bells and Global Positioning Systems. In addition to the driver, these vehicles are required to have a conductor to help children get on and off the bus safely, and a parent, guardian or teacher present at all times in the bus. Windows with grill are compulsory, as are emergency exits. The need for such measures became necessary with increasing cases of overcrowded autorickshaws turning over and injuring children and of children being subjected to sexual and other violence by cleaners and other adults riding in unmonitored vans.

While not all registered school buses are fully compliant with the guidelines, these do provide children a measure of safety. In contrast, the private vans, being a law unto themselves, usually provide none. Overcrowded vans speeding on roads or weaving dangerously through traffic is a common sight in Bengaluru and elsewhere. The guidelines for safe travel to and from school are not being implemented. Traffic cops need to monitor private vehicles ferrying children. But there is a shortage of cops to do this, as these vehicles run during rush hours when cops are already overburdened.

Parents say the fee for school buses is high and forces them to opt for private vans. This may be true, but it is hard to understand their prioritising cost over children’s safety. Parents also choose private vans as these are more convenient. Children are picked up and dropped at their doorstep, freeing parents of the responsibility of dropping and picking up the child from designated bus stops. Are they aware of what happens to their children en route to school? Unlike school buses, private vans drop the child some distance from the school. It is the demand from parents that is driving this profitable business. Should their demand stop, the unsafe and unauthorised vans will go out of business.

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Prioritise child safety, not costs

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