Published: 22nd October 2022
Hyderabad child rape case: More security and awareness on sexual abuse needed in schools, say parents, teachers, experts
Educational institutions are required to conduct periodic training for sensitising children on child safety and protection, according to the POCSO Act
A few days ago, the rape of a four-year-old girl at Hyderabad's BSD DAV School brought to light the issue of the rising number of sexual abuse cases being reported in schools. While, the Education Minister of Telangana, Sabitha Indra Reddy, directed the District Education Officer (DEO) to immediately cancel BSD DAV Public School's permission, teachers, parents and experts opine that more preventive measures need to be taken.
EdexLive reached out to a few officials from schools across Hyderabad. Some of these schools conduct regular sexual harassment awareness programs for their students and staff. The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, or POCSO mandates reporting by any person to the police if child sexual abuse is suspected. Additionally, the institution must also ensure that periodic training is organised for sensitising them on child safety and protection.
Not enough resources
GGPS Mehbubia in Hyderabad conducts sexual harassment awareness sessions every two to three months on campus, informed Sudha, the Primary Head Mistress. “We have internal committees as well that deal with complaints regarding harassment,” she said. However, if more police protection was provided near campus, students will feel safer, she added. “Since it is an all-girls school, there should be an additional police presence,” she said.
However, some teachers say that such committees are not functional in most schools. “Such instances have happened in many schools. But there are no school-level or local-level committees to deal with them. If they are there, they are not functioning properly,” said Chava Ravi from the Telangana State United Teachers’ Federation. He added that they have submitted multiple representations to the State Education Department for the constitution of such committees, but there has been no response so far.
As part of OutLawed India’s initiative — Project Safe Schools — an online survey was launched that collected students’ responses from 1,635 schools across 200 cities in India. The survey revealed that out of 1,635 schools, only 70 schools had all the resources that were enquired about — Sexual Harassment Committee, workshops for students and teachers and POCSO awareness. Additionally, 307 schools (18 per cent) had absolutely no resources to prevent and combat sexual abuse, according to the survey.
While some schools have these resources, teachers say that the cases largely go unreported. “We have the necessary committees and security systems in place to deal with sexual harassment cases. But they largely go unreported because children do not know that what is happening with them is wrong,” said Abhimanyu Acharya, Professor and Principal Advisor to Glendale Academy, Hyderabad. A few children are extremely aware but how can one teach a child what is inappropriate touch, he asked.
Additionally, most of the time, these incidents happen outside the school campus, he said. “As a result, this doesn’t come within the ambit of the school’s responsibility because the school is not in control of where the child is 24x7,” he added. While the majority of the perpetrators' crime can be attributed to the poor value system of the school, the rest of it also depends on parental guidance, he added.
The recent rape case has provoked the already existing fears of many parents who send their kids to schools. “There is a hotel that is adjacent to the school. Around 80 girls go to this school so more police protection is needed especially after this case,” said Venugopal, a parent, whose daughter studies in Government Girls High School Red Cross at Masab Tank, Hyderabad. However, he mentioned that the school hosts sexual harassment awareness programmes once a month by the Bharosa team — a support centre of the Hyderabad police for women and children.
In order to avoid the recurrence of such incidents, the Education Minister said a committee headed by the Education Secretary will be formed to advise the government on the security measures to be taken. The Minister stated that the committee will submit its report within a week. Based on this report, measures will be taken for ensuring the safety of the students, she added.
Not being aware is the root problem?
Much of the problem is also centred around the lack of training for teachers and a parallel lack of awareness among children about the existence of committees on campus that address sexual harassment complaints. The aforementioned survey revealed that 28.5 per cent of students responded that they do not know if their school has a sexual harassment committee and 19 per cent of the students are unaware whether they have been through any workshop about sexual assault.
Additionally, teachers must be made aware about the provisions of the POCSO Act and how the child protection system works as a whole, said Apoorva, a Research Fellow with Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy. “Teachers need to be trained so that they understand how to report the crime to the relevant authorities as soon as it comes to their knowledge. Apart from including such information in their training curriculum, there is a need to increase their familiarity with other actors in the child protection system such as the members of the Special Juvenile Police Units, police authorities and members of Child Welfare Committees” she said. In fact, some teachers might not even know that they have the law makes them responsible for reporting such offences, she added.
Moreover, these training sessions need to involve different stakeholders that are part of the child protection system. “Due to the multiplicity of actors in the child protection system, training should not happen in isolation with only teachers. We need an intergrated training programme where different actors in the system come together and understand the roles they all play within the system,” she added.
While the Telangana government will soon derecognise the school where crime happened, Apoorva said that this cannot be the only solution. “Knee-jerk responses to sexual offences do not address the problem of child sexual abuse. A better response could have been to train everyone in any position of authority in that school - teachers, staff, helpers etc - so that they could learn how to respond effectively to such situations,” she said.