10 Sep 2023  |   06:18am IST

PROTECT CHILDREN FROM PREDATORS

Even as there is lot of chatter about the National Educational Policy (NEP) 2020 for the overall development of the children right from KG to PG, on the other hand a spate of sexual assault cases against minor students at school campuses, that too involving teachers, have shocked the entire State. MARCOS GONSALVES finds that these shocking incidents have not only raised serious questions on the ability of school managements in ensuring safety of its students, but pointed fingers towards police department, political leaders and the society at large, which hasn’t been vocal enough in denouncing these incidents
PROTECT CHILDREN  FROM PREDATORS

The recent incidents of sexual assaults on minor students in schools at Marcaim and Fatorpa, besides few in other areas in last few weeks has raised serious doubts about the safety of our children in the temples of knowledge.

Many have even raised questions on the seriousness of our political leaders in curbing this menace and also voluntary organisations, claiming to be working for social causes as they are hardly seen taking up this burning issue, except a few.

What is more alarming is that teachers are the alleged perpetrators of these heinous crimes. Ironically, teachers are supposed to play a crucial role in safeguarding the kids. Instead, they are accused of destroying the future of the children. 

In this context, a need is being felt to ensure that the teaching fraternity, besides the other concerned authorities, are made aware of laws and various preventive measures for safety of the students as part of the NEP 2020. 

These incidents have led to NGOs asking the government to come out with measures for ensuring the safety of students in the campuses of educational institutes.

Many are of the opinion that reluctance of parents and school managements in reporting incidents of sexual assault against their children/students is causing more harm than good.

Experts feel that failure of school managements in taking timely action and hushing up the matter under the carpet to protect school’s reputation, has actually emboldened the predators. 

It has been also found that many school managements don’t have proper training on how to recognise and respond to signs of sexual abuse, besides there aren’t any clear policies and procedures in place to prevent and report these incidents. 

As per a report released by the India Child Protection Fund (ICPF), there was a spurt in consumption of Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM) during Covid-19 outbreak. 

The demand for online child pornography was almost 5 million per month in 100 cities. Globally, viewing of online CSAM is on the rise. 

According to the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), over the past 15 years, demand for CSAM has increased by 15000 percent. It came to light that one of the major challenges is decoding CSAM cases from the source data, which are available in CDs.

As per the data presented by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) 2021, there has been a more than 400 percent increase in cybercrime cases committed against children in India. Specifically, in Goa, there are 43,663 files on CSAM, that were downloaded from 30 different URLs in 2021. And hence, the need for a State-wide consultation is more pressing than ever. 

The consultation became an opportunity to ideate and deliberate the implementation of robust policies and legislative measures in protecting children from cybercrimes, along with the inclusion of a broader definition of child pornography.  

Peter Borges, Chairperson of the Goa State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, said that taking into consideration the recent incidents, the authorities concerned (State administration/Education Department/Higher Education/Goa University management) should work together to prevent such incidents and ensure safety of students within the school/college campus.

He is of the strong opinion that all those in contact with students in educational setting need to be properly trained on how to recognise and respond to signs of sexual abuse. This includes training on how to identify warning signs, how to report abuse, and how to provide support for victims. They must mandatorily complete an annual orientation on sexual offences defined under POCSO Act 2012. 

“All educational institutions should have clear policies and procedures in place to address sexual abuse in the setting. This includes having a designated focal person or a team responsible for handling abuse reports, as well as procedures for reporting incidents and providing support for victims,” he added. 

Borges further informed that there is need to create safe and inclusive environment for safeguarding students where they feel comfortable discussing sensitive topics such as sexual abuse. This includes having a zero-tolerance policy for any form of harassment or abuse, as well as providing support services for victims.

At the recently held programme to deliberate on the issue at Pilar, it was resolved that Goa State Commission for Protection of Child Rights will make Goa cyber safe. 

According to Borges, children’s vulnerability has increased in this digital era and hence the issue needs comprehensive approach, collective action by all stakeholders, awareness generation at all levels and strict implementation of POCSO Act 2012.  

Auda Viegas, President of ‘Bailancho Ekvott’, who is working hard pertaining to the issues of sexual assaults on children, feels that it is very important to inform the teachers and management of respective educational institutions about the provisions of the POCSO Act. 

She expressed urgent need for awareness about child sexual abuse and online grooming among the teachers to identify, rescue and counsel children trapped in online sexual abuse, as well as desist from it themselves. 

“The education department has to ensure that the principals, teachers and staff are trained to act when there is any violation of the POCSO Act 2012. They need to be warned of strict action against them for non-reporting, as stipulated in the Act,” said Viegas. 

She said children do report such abuse, but it is a known fact that institutions fearing tarnishing of their institution’s image, often hush it up and do not report. They however, do not know the trauma the child goes through not just with the incident, but throughout his/her life. 

This is also because all the schools do not have a counsellor to hear and counsel the child and hence Viegas in a letter to Chief Minister Pramod Sawant, has demanded that he should direct all schools to have counselling facilities, besides principals, teachers and the non-teaching staff should be trained and counsellors appointed in every school. 

Tara Kerkar, another social activist, is of the opinion that every school needs to have sexual harassment committee for any complaints with respect to girl child to take appropriate actions against such person causing harassment to the girl child. 

“Assistant District Education Inspectors of all talukas should be directed to visit every school in their area and conduct surveys about the proper maintenance of toilets and check whether there are adequate toilets provided for girls,” she demanded. 

Kerkar further brought to notice that girl students are forced to face humiliation in the school pertaining to puberty. 

According to her, the schools have to make provisions for providing free sanitary pads for girls as there are incidents where the school going girls have to suffer with unwanted comments from the boys regarding the bleeding and such age it is required to give necessary education on puberty and adolescent stage. 

Recently, Usman Khan, President of Islamic Organisation of India (SIO) urged the teachers to maintain the highest level of vigil in campuses and protect the young minds. 

He also said that a civilised society should never tolerate such instances at any level, let alone educational institutions. 

Khan also demanded that strict action should be taken against institutions trying to shield the perpetrators. 

According to the experts, sexual grooming is a major area of concern, as it is resulting in the sexual exploitation of children. 

It has been observed that sexual grooming could be done both in person and online by making the victims view sexually explicit images and videos. 

Taking into consideration the above aspects, parents too have a major role to play, wherein they need to talk to their children about ‘red flags’ in online chats, which are important to report, block and tell an adult about. 

Showing concern towards the future of the children, Jennifer Fernandes, a parent from Fatorpa, who is also a panch member of village panchayat Fatorpa, said that school managements need to keep vigil on the teaching staff and more especially on suspicious teachers. 

“School is the second home for the child and hence parents have high hopes that their child will be protected in the school campus. However, the rise in cases pertaining to sexual exploitation of the student at school has raised serious questions on the safety of the children,” she said. 

She expressed anger over the fact that no action was taken despite complaints from the several parents with regard to sexual assaults on their children. 

“Those teachers involved in such types of incidents need to be taken on task so that an example is set for all. Culprits  - be it be teachers or any other person, should be punished,” Fernandes asserted. 

Sheela Borkar, another parent from Margao, said that abuse of children has increased these days mainly because of the use of internet and new technology is being used to sexually exploit children. 

We cannot blame one but there are several other factors resulting in sexual abuses of the minor children. However, sexual assault from teachers and in the school campus cannot be tolerated. It is the duty of the school management and teachers to protect the students in the campus during the school hours, she stated. 

While, Anant Agni, Headmaster of Ravindra Kelekar Dnyanmandir at Margao, is of the strong opinion that strict and immediate action needs to be initiated against the alleged accused teacher indulged in the sexaul abuse of the student which will result in fear among other not to indulge in such activities. 

“Regular monitoring needs to be followed at the school level. Teachers are duty-bound to play the role of mentors to the students. School managements also need to regularly guide the teachers about their responsibilities towards the students and especially with regard to protecting them from sexual exploitations,” he added. 

Agni also added that many schools don’t have safety measures in place for the girl students at the campus. 

(Inputs from Rohan Shrivastav)


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