Last week I compiled news stories from different media which got either front page or insignificant coverage. All of them were about the violence and indignities heaped on the children of this country who are projected by our politicians and everyone who is someone as ‘future citizens of our country’. Most people are angry, pained and disturbed by what is happening to our children. It is that angst that reflects in this column. These reported cases of indignities against children range from corporal punishment to reprehensible cases of rapes of minor girls, all blatant violations of the rights of children. The following stories many of you might have already seen or heard, are repeated here to show how callous and insensitive those responsible for dealing with children are.
NEWS18 last Wednesday reported about how 81 children were given one liter of milk by adding a bucket of water! This happened in a school in the Salaibanwa area of Sonabhadra district of Uttar Pradesh. This case has come to light and it is true; action has been taken against the erring staff by the education department. Earlier in August this year, in a school in Hinauta in the Mirzapur district of UP as part of midday meal, children were given salt as ‘side dish’ to go with the dry chappatis or rotis despite a prescribed elaborate menu! In this case, sadly the messenger, a print journalist who took the video of the children having chappati with salt, which went viral was charged!
The midday meal scheme in schools was introduced with the main objectives of 1. “Improving the nutritional status of children in classes I – VIII in Government, Local Body and Government aided schools, and Education Guarantee [EGS ]and Alternative and Innovative Education [AIE] Centers. 2. Encouraging poor children, belonging to disadvantaged sections, to attend school more regularly and help them concentrate on classroom activities.3. Providing Nutritional support to children of primary stage in drought affected areas.”[nhp.gov.in ].
Such lofty welfare schemes encounter roadblocks reportedly due to poor implementation, callous attitudes and corruption on the part of the agencies at the execution level. The above instances of giving children milk with large quantities of water or letting them eat the dry rotis with salt are just examples of poor delivery of the scheme. The Basic Shiksha Adhikari of the education department in fact had told the Times of India that “according to the midday meal scheme each student of a primary school should get 150 ml of milk and in the junior high school the prescribed quality for every child is 200 ml.” It may be added that right to nutritious food is a basic right of children.
On 21st November The NEWS Minute reported how emergency medical attention to a ten year old student of Sarvajana Vocational HSS in Sulthan Bathery in Wayanad[ Kerala] was delayed after a poisonous snake hiding in a hole in her classroom floor bit the child while the class was in progress. The little girl and her classmates reportedly told the teacher about the snakebite but the teacher ignored it. So precious time was lost in reaching the child to the hospital where the doctor in charge did not allegedly administer anti-venom medication resulting in the death of the little girl. The visuals of the compound of the school seen on various television channels were unbelievably dirty, bushy and with white-ant hills, ideal habitat for snakes! Again, children were not allowed to put on footwear in class rooms and had the child worn shoes, would not have been bitten by the snake. Some school staff members have been suspended, the holes in the floors closed and cleaning operations of the compound are now being undertaken. Children’s safety was endangered as necessary timely remedial/ preventive actions were not taken by those responsible for running the school.
I feel this snake in the classroom incident is a violation of many basic rights of children under the broad titles of Right to Survival and Right to Protection. If the school had followed the basics of the right of the children to clean and safe environment, there would have been no holes in the classrooms for snakes to hide. If the school had bothered to provide a clean compound which was not bushy with white –ant hills and mud tunnels for termites reptiles to hide would, there would have been no snake in the classroom. Right to be protected from neglect of children has also been violated in this case; the school had really neglected the safety of children. The Times of India reports that a petition has been filed, “on charges of causing death by negligence [304A IPC] along with cruelty to child [section 75 of Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act].
There have been numerous cases of rape of minor girls reported from across the country last week, even as the rape, murder and setting on fire of a 27 year old veterinary doctor of Shamshabad of Hyderabad in Telangana shocked the nation and grabbed media headlines. The following stories of the rape of minor girls last week did not attract that type of media coverage but reveal how our children are being tortured and sexually assaulted by beastly men.
Mirror Now reported on 30th November about the rape of a minor girl by two men in a residential area of Vadodra in Gujarat. On 26th November another minor girl out to celebrate her birthday was raped by six men in the Seeranayakan village of Coimbatore district in Tamil Nadu. Police said that four of the alleged culprits have been arrested, according to NEWS18.
According to NDTV, a six year old school girl went missing after a sports competition last Saturday, 30th November in Rajasthan’s Tonk district. Police officials said on Sunday that her body was found near bushes in a remote area near her village Khetadi. She was strangled with her school belt; liquor bottles, snacks and blood stains were also found at the spot. So far a forty year old man was detained for interrogation. There was another case of a 14 year old boy allegedly raping a six year old girl in the Lakhimpur district of Uttar Pradesh last Saturday, reports, NDTV. Yesterday [2nd November] India Today reported another story of a 17 year old girl in the Jalore district of Rajasthan. Her father had chained her and allegedly raped her repeatedly for several days, in their home, the girl said once she escaped. A case has been registered by the police.
Yet another area where children face violence is the school. The violence referred to is not the occasional physical attacks on each other by students but about the violent punishments occasionally given to children by teachers, termed corporal punishment. Use of the cane to discipline children at school [and also by parents at home] has been an integral part of our school education system. Occasionally when such punishments are so cruel and brutal such incidents attract media glare. Here is one such story reported last Friday by The NEWS Minute:”Two children in Class 3 and Class 5 were treated in an inhumane manner in their own school as their hands and feet were bound with a rope to a bench behind the teacher’s desk. The children stayed in that position while the teacher continued to face the classroom, indifferent to the kids.” Madam said to tie me up; so a fourth class anna came and tied my hands and legs to the bench” Pavan, the boy from Class 3, told the media. The incident took place in the Moosanpet upper Primary School in Kadri Mandal , Anantapur district, Andhra Pradesh.” According to the report the headmistress said that the Class 5 boy had been punished for writing a ‘love letter in a notebook and justified her action.
Corporal Punishment is defined by the UNICEF as “any punishment in which physical force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort, however light. Most involve hitting [“smacking”, “slapping”, “spanking” ] children with hand or an implement….corporal punishment is invariably degrading ”. Corporal punishment has been banned under Section 17 of the Right to Education Act. The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights [NCPCR] has issued guidelines for eliminating corporal punishment in schools. The guidelines include constitution of Special Monitoring Cells to take prompt action in cases of physical punishment or harassment of children. Corporal Punishment Monitoring Cells would hear grievances related to corporal punishment within 48 hours of the occurrence. The guidelines also suggest written undertaking by teachers not to engage in any action that could be construed as amounting to physical punishment, mental harassment or discrimination and need to have annual audits on any of these if there are any such instances.
We have laws, regulations and guidelines to eliminate most of the problems of violence against children mentioned above. But strict adherence to the regulatory norms only can ensure violence free schools. Last week we witnessed a series of incidents of violence against children. It is hoped that such a week doesn’t come again!
The facts and views expressed in the article are those of the writer.