The revelation of several old and recent cases of child sexual abuse in schools in Chennai and its suburbs has left the city in shock. Educational institutions no longer appear to be the safe spaces that they were meant to be. But can an institution be held responsible for crimes committed by individuals within their premises? What should they do to ensure justice for the survivors of such abuse. More importantly, how can they prevent the occurrence of such abhorrent crimes in the space?
The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 says that any school, institution or individuals engaged in imparting education or training that requires proximity to children needs to be accountable and own responsibility to ensure their safety.
In instances of breach of safety of a child within the school premises, on school transport, during online sessions or any engagement of the school staff with the students, the schools, institutions and individuals shall be held accountable.
Responsibility of Schools
In its ‘‘Handbook on Implementation of POCSO Act, 2012, for School Management and Staff’, The National Institute of Public Cooperation and Child Development (NIPCCD) has prescribed that schools should set up committees with students as well as parents and management representatives on campus.
All CBSE schools, including those in Chennai, are governed by guidelines issued by the Board. Following incidents of crime against children in Delhi, CBSE issued new safety guidelines to schools stressing that the responsibility of student safety within the precincts of the schools lies squarely on the school authorities.
The guidelines necessitated schools to constitute separate committees for redressal of grievances of the public, staff, parents and students. In 2018, schools were also asked to follow the comprehensive guidelines issued by the National Commission for Protection of the Rights of Children (NCPCR), which calls for setting up of a grievance committee for child sexual abuse in all schools.
Child Protection Policy in schools
Child Protection policy in schools is a necessity which students, teachers and parents must be aware off. This policy must encompass not just safety within the campus but also in school transport as well as cyber safety since online classes are in vogue during these days of pandemic. Every school must appoint a student counsellor to which students must have easy access, as well as an assurance of maintaining secrecy.
Schools should have a grievance committee and complaint boxes. Schools must also create records of the complaints made and action taken against each complaint. They should prominently display information and disseminate details of Childline 1098 and about organizations working on child rights issues.
Swapna Sundar, CEO, IP DOME, Member-Legal, Institutional Human Ethics Committee, NIE – ICMR, says, “I believe all schools and institutions that deal with children should have a strong protocol with full documentation to prevent sexual harassment and other forms of abuse from happening. “ She lists out the benefits of a strong protocol in schools and other institutes that impart training to children in various activities, stressing the following points:
Benefits of a strong protocol in schools
- Opportunistic crimes can be prevented
- Easy to detect those who do not follow the protocol because abuse becomes more serious with time. A good protocol with checks and balances will enable the school to identify persons resorting to harassment of children at the first instance, preventing the harassment from progressing to more serious levels.
- Paedophiles or those with perverted mind-set usually look for a profession that gives them access to children. A strong protocol will prevent such persons from joining the school.
- A strong protocol also reduces access of potential perpetrators to children and help identify grooming by such persons.
Role of the Parent-Teacher Association Executive Committee
All parents are by default, members of the Parent Teacher Association (PTA). An Executive Committee of the PTA, having a term for one year, is formed in every school through a General Body Meeting. However, according to Swapna Sundar the PTA seems to be primarily focusing only on school infrastructure, fees, academics etc. Issues of child sexual abuse in school, bullying etc., are not taken up actively.
Swapna feels that it is important to implement the child protection policy that directs schools to create committees for various issues of importance in school management . There should be an exclusive committee for sexual harassment, abuse, bullying etc. There is an anti-ragging law for colleges but there is no law against bullying in school.
Not just for schools
According to Swapna Sunder, there should be a standardized procedure and a protocol for all institutions such as coaching and training institutions, sports academies, dance, music and art schools, television and other media channels that telecast or broadcast children’s programmes, theatre, cinema etc., so that any infringement of child rights or child sexual abuse or harassment can be noticed immediately and action taken. This will not only protect children but will also save the school or institution from disrepute.
Swapna Nair, Counsellor and Transformational Coach and Founder Director at The Sanctum Counselling outlines the following course of action:
- In incidences of child sexual abuse in schools, either during live or online sessions — which can happen through exhibitionism, language, cyber bullying or blackmail — the first point of contact for the child is a trusted adult which can be a parent, the class teacher or a favourite teacher.
- A trusted adult should contact the school authorities.
- The school authorities, along with a counsellor and a legal professional, should talk to the child in the presence of the trusted adult (usually the parent) and try to understand exactly what the child is saying and clarify without being judgmental. The counsellor should write down exactly the same words used by the child while describing the incident.
Sexual harassment/ abuse of school children: Signs to look out for
- Confusion and shock when a teacher resorts to sexual harassment
- Guilt and shame, giving rise to the thought, “Did I do something wrong to elicit such a response from my teacher?”
- Child may take time to open up to the trusted adult
Changes in behaviour to be noticed by parents/teachers/significant others
- Child becomes silent and withdrawn
- Avoids eye contact, doesn’t answer questions or gives partial answers
- Suddenly expresses dislike for a subject or a teacher
- Child develops psychosomatic conditions such as headache, stomach ache and other symptoms
- Regression to bed-wetting, nail biting
- Looking lost, day dreaming
- Sudden reaction to phone calls or messages, being glued to the phone
- Child avoids classes or school
- Changes in food habits, either being overly hungry or avoiding food
Long-term impact of CSA
- Guilt, shame and low self-esteem, poor body image
- Promiscuity or avoidance of persons of the gender of the accuser
- Relationship issues in personal and professional life
- Manifest symptoms such as ulcers, autoimmune conditions like psoriasis, eczema.
- High stress levels
- CSA can trigger mental conditions if a child is genetically vulnerable to certain mental health conditions
- Low emotional quotient
Based on information and pointers from Swapna Nair, Founder Director at The Sanctum Counselling
Helplines and NGOs to turn to for help
1098 Day & Night
CHILDLINE 1098 is a 24-hour a day, 365 days a year, free, emergency phone service for children in need of aid and assistance. CHILDLINE not only responds to emergency needs of children but also links them or their guardians to relevant services for their care and protection.
Who can access 1098?
- Child – Any child can dial 1098 to get in touch with the CHILDLINE India Foundation team who will reach out to the child to help, keeping the name and identity of the child confidential.
- Concerned Adult – Any adult who is concerned about a child can dial 1098 to help the child.
- Family/Relatives – Any family member who is concerned about a child in their immediate or extended family can dial 1098 to help the child.
- CHILDLINE Network – If any partner of CHILDLINE India needs assistance they can dial 1098.
ICCW Tamil Nadu functions with the objective of ensuring children’s rights and works for the protection of children against neglect, abuse and exploitation.
Ph: +91-44-26260097 / 26282833 / 26212550
E Mail: email@example.com
Tulir – CPHCSA is committed to work against child sexual abuse in India
Tel: +91 44 43235867, +91 44 26618026 E-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org
Aware aims to create awareness for Wo+men to advocate their rights through equality. It is an initiative to spread awareness on Human Laws, Rights & Gender Equality
Ph: +91 81222 41688 E-mail: email@example.com
Karpom Karpipom aims to create awareness regarding Indian parenting and women’s health.
Ph: +91 79040 23250 E Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Penn aims to create a safe environment for women in Chennai with an agenda to proactively address crime against women at multiple levels- individual, community, governance, law enforcement, judicial implementation and policymaking.
Ph: 093400 06600 E-mail: email@example.com
Nakshatra is committed to work against trafficking and sexual violence in India. They have a Rape Crisis Centre (RCC) in Chennai and also work with victims and their families in many downtrodden slum communities of Chennai.
Ph: 0091-9003058479, 0091- 7845629339
Person working for the cause of child sexual abuse: Viji Ganesh, Coach and Educator, Personal safety and Sexuality Education