Child Safety and You
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|   Aug 25, 2014
Child Safety and You

Bangalore stopped making news for the right reasons a long time ago. For more than a decade, the city has been hitting the headlines for a number of wrong reasons.

Mind-numbing traffic. Roads that are barely there. Power shortage. Absence of an efficient public transport system. Rising pollution levels. Rising road rage. Rising corruption. Fading greenery, because of wanton and large-scale felling of trees. Artificially fuelled real estate prices. Spiraling costs of education and healthcare.  

As if this litany weren’t enough, another one just got added to this list, pushing Bangalore into the hall of shame. Sexual violence against women and children.

Every day, we wake up to fresh reports of sexual violence. Last month, things reached a tipping point of sorts when the rape of a 6 year old girl child at the Vibgyor High School in Bangalore came to light. The incident occurred inside the school. The girl was a student of the school. In the weeks that followed, many of the city’s citizens rose in protest and anguish, calling for action on the part of the Government. They wanted the culprits to be brought to book and punitive action taken against the the school management  for covering up the crime. Also, the agitated parents wanted rules to be implemented in schools, to ensure that such a ghastly incident does not recur.

Let’s be honest. Violence against women (sexual or otherwise) has never been rare in India. Thanks to a number of factors, mainly the manner in which girls/women are treated at home and portrayed in popular public narratives like music and cinema, women have been ill-treated and violated in different ways in our country. At home and outside. But what’s shocking, is the frequency with which such incidents are coming to light of late, and the widespread manner of the violence. Also, the impunity with which the assailants carry out these attacks is galling, to put it mildly.

And now, sickeningly, it seems even children are not safe from lustful eyes and groping hands.  It is becoming increasingly unsafe for children to do anything out of home. Simple, routine acts such as going to school, playing with friends and buying a cone of ice cream from the nearby store have started to come under threat. Forget accepting a biscuit from a stranger, accepting it from even a known person can be fateful to a child these days.

Adhering to their long tradition of ineptitude and total apathy to really important issues, the powers that be continue to turn a blind eye to these incidents. It will therefore be impractical of us to expect the police, the government and the legislature to shake off their apathy immediately and get to work. Yes, petitions are being filed and protests are being organized. These are necessary steps civil society takes to try and wake the government up. But then, has an elephant ever done anything in a jiffy, let alone dance? Already, six weeks after the Vibgyor High School incident, the protests seem to have died down. Newspapers have moved on to other stories. And the school has reopened.

In other words, it is business as usual. 

And so, if you are expecting any concrete action to come forth from the government, be ready for a long, long wait.

So, what do you do in the meantime? The popular art of twiddling your thumbs is simply not an option in this case. As a parent, you have to act. Immediately, and with some force of character. If you think about it, you will realize that there is a lot you can do if you want to ensure that our children are safe. 

Here are some steps you can take immediately:

  1. Write to your child’s school and ask them what measures they have taken to ensure the safety of the children. Follow this up by collecting a set of parents (of children who go to the same school as your child) and asking for a meeting with the Principal/Administrator. Go into the meeting prepared: discuss with other parents beforehand and come up with a list of measures you collectively think are necessary. At the meeting, discuss the issue threadbare, table your suggestions and make it clear to the school management that this is one issue where no compromise is to be allowed. It will be a good idea to make ‘child safety’ a point in the charter of the Parent-Teacher Association. A small and separate parent-teacher team should perhaps be set up to oversee this matter. Before hiring anybody, the school should be made to check the credentials and antecedents of the person thoroughly – this includes everyone, including teachers. And if someone from the school tells you that the company running the buses/vans in which the children are transported is not under their control, be sure to look him/her in the eye and point out that indeed it is!
  2. Do something similar in your housing society. Get the Board of Managers/Office Bearers to review and beef up safety measures. The security and maintenance staff of the housing society have to be recruited only after their background has been checked carefully. Further, people should not be allowed into your building/complex without proper identification. 
  3. At home, be more cautious than ever. Hire your domestic help with great care and be eternally watchful when they are with your child. Before hiring your driver, cook or maid, check with his/her current and past employers about his/her character. It is a sad sign of our times that even maids and helpers who have been with us for a long time cannot be trusted blindly (God! How I wish we were living in simpler, more innocent times!). Educate your children about a ‘good touch’ and a ‘bad touch’ and drill it down into their tender scalps that they must not go with or accept anything from a stranger. Every day, when your children come back home, ask them what happened at school. Do not do this while reading the newspaper or cooking a meal. Rather, make this a searching conversation, in which you keep your eyes open for tell-tale signs of discomfort and misery in the children. 
  4. If you come to hear of any incident where a child has been molested, raise a hue and a cry immediately. Do not hesitate. Do not keep quiet. Do not soft-pedal. Remember that by raising your voice immediately, you can prevent such a ghastly incident from happening to some other child.
  5. This last one may sound sad and shocking. Many of the perpetrators of sexual abuse of children are the ones who are supposed to be 'near and dear'. Members of the extended family, family friends, relatives, neighbours. Enough reports have validated this truth. So, all I can say is 'please be alert'. 

In the final analysis, you can’t guarantee anything in life. But what you definitely can do, is minimize the risk for our children. It will be a crime if you don’t do all that you can. While the axiom goes that child is the father of man, we must know that in this case, the child is simply a child. You are its father and mother.

It is time to step up and act. 

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