Sunday, April 24, 2011

Schools and CSA Awareness

Some time in February, we headed down to Hyderabad to get the school admission process started. We were quite lucky since Ayaan got into 4 of the 5 schools on our list - some because he did well on a test, others because they liked the look of us and yet others which liked the look of our bank balance.

The first school we visited was a well-known school and we were offered a seat there after Ayaan cleared the test but I hoped we wouldn't have to take it because I just did not like the place. To start with, they had a written test and I have a problem with schools that test 5-year olds. Then I saw a teacher swatting a kid on his upper arm - I was too far away to see if it was done in anger but it left a bad taste in the month. Then, they wanted a hefty admission fee - in cash. Very, very shady.

So, we were pretty much decided against the school (in the hope we got into some of the others) but the final nail in the coffin was the principal's interaction with the parents and the way she responded to a parent's concern on child abuse and the measures the school was taking to protect the kids from it.

Now, I have never actually seen a deer caught in the headlights but I would bet good money that the look on the principal's face was a reasonably good likeness. I guess she was just not expecting a direct question on this. Once she had schooled her features back into their principal-like stern demeanour, she went on the offensive.

After making some vague and completely unconvincing sounds about how they take 'adequate measures' on all aspects of the children's safety, she then went on to say that children were much more likely to face abuse at home than at school. To make her point, she then went on to tell the story of a girl student who was being abused at home by a servant and how she did not tell her parents but confided in her teacher at school.

I thought her response was inappropriate on so many levels. Firstly, while she might be right about the fact that more kids are abused outside schools than in, it is hardly a reason to be complacent about the issue and have no stated policy on how the school plans to keep kids safe. Secondly, I was quite shocked at her 'story'. My husband felt she made it up on the spot and I hope he is right, because I don't think she has the right to violate some student's privacy by telling her story so casually in a public forum.

The laws on child sex abuse are virtually non-existent in India and there is no governmental pressure on schools to put in place a formal system for avoiding and dealing with incidents of sexual abuse. To add to that, the supply of good schools falls way short of demand so most parents aren't as pushy as they should be when it comes to holding schools accountable for their policies.

I am no expert in this field, but as a parent, I would like to see schools do the following when it comes to Child Sexual Abuse, I would like to see the following happening across schools:
  • Schools should have a greater sense of ownership of the children in their care and a partnership approach to working with parents to keep them safe. Ayaan's Mumbai school is pretty good in this respect. They pro-actively call experts to conduct an annual session for parents, making it compulsory for at least one parent to attend.
  • Schools should also work in safety lessons into the curriculum including 'good touch-bad touch' and not talking to strangers.
  • In addition to parents and children, the teachers and staff should get regular training on appropriate behaviour with students and warning signs displayed by abused children.
  • There should be a written policy of Child Sexual Abuse and it should not be a state secret - any current or prospective parent wanting to know about it should be able to access it easily.
  • There should a robust background check on all new employees - both teachers and other staff.
  • Every school should have a qualified child psychologist or counsellor on hand to pick up warning signs amongst studens and work with victims.
  • School buses should have responsible escorts, preferable a teacher from the school.
  • The school toilets should be brightly lit and easily accessible and manned by gender-appropriate staff.
  • In the event of an incident, big or small, happening in the school, it should not be hushed up and swept under the carpet. The privacy of the abused child is supremely important and should not be breached but strict action should be taken against the perpetrator and this should be publicised as a deterrant. The school should warn other schools in the city about this individual so that he does get another job working with kids.
That's what I could think of. Do let me know if you have some ideas on this. I will update and add to the post.

This post is part of the Child Sexual Abuse Awareness Month. Go here if you want to read more.


12 comments:

  1. Very much needed, for sure. Esp the last point abt co-operation between schools while sharing info abt abusers.

    Another thing about school bathrooms is that they should be separate for younger and older children, just like other facilities are.

    And totally agree with you on the privacy.

    as for the story the Principal told, it reminds me of the time, I was checking out preschools and asked about their policies on hygiene and sickness. She pompously said they take care, but if the parents were going to take their kids to malls and restaurants and give them 'dirty water' to drink, she was not going to be responsible for her students catching the infection.

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  2. totally agree. Complete transperancy and cooperation between parents and the school is needed.
    Good and informative post!

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  3. Yes, agree completely. My cousin who is visiting me this weekend from India was the principal of a school in Hyd. I should ask her about this. I bet she has not even thought about it. But I hope to be proved wrong and they actually had some policy at her school.

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  4. Good points Ro.

    This should be published in newspapers big time.

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  5. Lovely piece. Your suggestions to schools covers every point that it should document, as policy.

    But they should make it mandatory for parents to be aware of something like this. Believe it or not, most educated parents these days assume that it can never happen to their child. They don't realize that in 90% of cases, it is a trustworthy individual (man or woman) who handles the child constantly who could be the abuser.

    Schools should have an alignment with an organisation that works towards bringing awareness, and one that helps with a victim, if such an act happens.

    You have to visit www.tulir.org on this, they have lots of materials - some online too, for preparing our kids.

    I am a CSA victim myself (by a neighbour), and I have an older cousin who was caught abusing a child in the family (who is roaming around scot-free, having access to kids). It is unfair and irresponsible for us to carry on pretending nothing can happen. As you rightly said, there is no law, but at school levels, I hope a policy will be put in place. And I sincerely hope your blog kicks this off.

    Great going, Rohini.....!!!

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  6. Regarding the school buses, the school authorities must conduct a through background check on drivers and the conductors with sound references and their contact details must be made available to the parents. Also, the teacher escort should be on a rotational basis, a new teacher for a week maybe, the schedule of which should also be provided to the parents, so they know who exactly will be onboard on any given day.

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  7. [Starry] Good point about the separate loos. Nothing irritates me more than a school trying to pass the buck back to the parents, instead of making sure everything is right at their end first.

    [Uma] Good point about the school buses. Though I would prefer having one teacher on a regular basis, who the kids know and are comfortable with rather than a constantly shifting presence.

    [Noon] I wouldn't bet my money on there being a strong policy. It's just not something most Indian schools have woken up to in a big way.

    [Choxbox] I just hope that when the CSA bill comes out later this year, it includes strong measures to hold schools accountable.

    [Sai] I am really sorry to hear about your experience. It really sucks that this happens on such a large scale. And yes, I think building awareness amongst parents is key. Thanks for the tulir link

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  8. You've raised some excellent points Ro. I am quite sure that the majority of schools here in India don't have any specific guidelines. I think it is high time that they actually looked into this matter and your points would be a great place to start. It would give them all food for thought!

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  9. Schools probably need an CSA awareness campaign for the teachers and other staff. The belief that all of the adults in the school are responsible for the welfare of all the students in the school must be instilled.

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  10. Regular sensitisation programmes for the staff at all levels.

    Thanks for this post Ro, exactly what the month needed.

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  11. [M4] Now, if only they read my blog...

    [Dipali] Exactly. Each and every adult in the school needs to have that drilled into their head.

    [CSA] Thank YOU!

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  12. Lovely post..your points are very valid..
    Even we are at Hyd..Didn't know that you moved here..

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