July 2, 2014, saw Bengaluru City reeling under the shock of a heinous crime – a rape of a six year old girl in the campus of one of the city’s well-known schools. Reports of a swathe of similar incidents have gripped the city in the ensuing months and all schools, as well as their stakeholders, have been called to action to review the safety / security guidelines in place at all schools and to put into effect a policy on sexual harassment, along with instituting a Child Protection Policy reflecting 360 degree representation from all concerned: government, school management, faculty, parents and the police.
The media, government officials, the police department, school authorities, educationists and even politicians have weighed-in on every imaginable public forum and stringent safety guidelines have been formulated for schools to comply with. TV news channels are awash with debates on child safety and sexual harassment issues at schools and the city’s newspapers continue to carry story after story on the topic, underscoring the heightened awareness and the need for increased safety for our children. However, ironically, one important segment of the population has been left out of the discussions – the children, themselves.
To mark the “World Day for Prevention of Child Abuse, Inventure Academy, a Pre K – 12 school located on Whitefield-Sarjapur Road, in association with Enfold Proactive Health Trust, Children’s Movement for Civic Awareness (CMCA) and Mundkur Law Partners (MLP) held an event titled: “Our Safety, Our Voice – By the Children, for the Children and of the Children.” The event commenced at the Inventure Academy campus at 8:00 a.m., with the children themselves, as the Chief Guests.
Over 200 children of varied ages and diverse socio-economic backgrounds (Grades 4 – 12) from government, private aided and unaided English, Kannada and Urdu medium schools, came together to share experiences, create campaigns, slogans and a children’s charter. At the end of the day, opinions on personal safety were eloquently expressed through the mediums of words, music, drama, mime and music.
A few of the suggestions made were that parents should be more approachable, open, non-judgmental, that justice to victims must be speedy with a suitable punishment to the perpetrator, a zero tolerance policy should be in effect to curb bullying, teasing and promote gender equality at home and in schools. Some of the specific points mentioned in the children’s charter include:
- Parents and schools must teach kids how to react in problematic situations
- Children should be encouraged to learn self-defense
- Children should not be shamed or judged
- Security in all schools to be improved
- Conduct workshops for child safety regularly for all stakeholders at schools
- A zero tolerance policy must be implemented in all schools for bullying and sexual harassment
- Cyber security measures must be strengthened
- Institute better laws to protect the rights of children
- Provide an accessible helpline for children
- Speedy justice for victims
The charter, prepared entirely by the children, will be submitted to the relevant stakeholders like the Education Department, Police, etc as soon as all the points are collated and formatted.
The team from Enfold facilitated discussions about their presentations and provided guidance on personal safety concepts, rules, and child rights. Students worked in groups to come up with recommendations and campaign ideas that they would like to see their parents, schools, police and government adopt for child safety and to recognize, resist and report incidents of child abuse. Our Safety, Our Voice will raise awareness (and ultimately, sponsorship) for Enfold to help educate 100,000 underprivileged students, and their parents and faculty through their project called “Laksha Makkala Suraksha Project.” This ambitious project necessitates a need to develop a scalable model for such an endeavor in our society. Funds raised from Inventure Academy’s Primary School Production this year, will be donated towards this campaign, thereby encouraging other schools to do the same.
Ms Suchitra Rao, Senior Trainer on Development issues for the Government, UNICEF Projects and non-governmental sector, conducted a seminar for school leaders, parents and faculty to get feedback on the Child Protection Policy being formulated by the United Nations Child Rights’ Committee for child safety. Ms. Rao is a member of state committees for children in Karnataka and advises the government on child protection measures and guidelines.
Dr. Sangeeta Saxena of Enfold said, “The event and the end result reflected the inclusive nature of the discussions and issues at hand. The presentations from the children showed that the voices of all participants were represented. At the end of the day, lessons learned from this kind of an event are not meant for just some children as those in some geography lesson. These lessons need to be inclusive and address the concerns of all children.”
It is hoped that this event has initiated much needed awareness amongst the school community and all its stakeholders. The Student Charter Team created and presented the student charter on child protection which is intended to feed in to a constructive, positive dialogue between all stakeholders (including the government, students, and schools). Nooraine Fazal, Managing Trustee of Inventure Academy, stated: “The aim was to run a pilot program, which other schools and communities can take forward because our society needs scalable and collaborative models to stop child abuse for all children everywhere.”
Suchitra Rao, summed it up by saying, “The event was really exciting for the teams that have been working on the child protection policy for the government to observe the process facilitated by Inventure Academy, bringing together children from diverse backgrounds and schools, to provide a common platform for all these children to voice their concerns, their perception of safety and the suggestions of how they can be involved to make schools and homes safer. We appreciate the initiative of Inventure Academy in facilitating such a consultative process. It is a definite value addition to the child protection policy of the state.”
Schools and NGO’s Represented at Our Safety, Our Voice:
Parikrama Humanity Foundation
Delhi Public School East (DPS East)
Dommasandra Government Urdu School
Sarjapur Government High School
The International School Bangalore (TISB)
Mallya Aditi International School (MAIS)
Association, Promotion for Social Action (APSA)
Concern for Working Children (CWC)
St Joseph’s Boys School