THE murder of a seven-year-old student of Ryan International School and rape of a five-year-old girl of Tagore Public School, both in the national capital region, sent shock waves through the hearts of students and parents across the country. The two incidents raised the questions of safety of students at schools. While the Ryan school student was allegedly murdered by the conductor of the bus that ferried him between his home and school, the girl was raped by the security guard of the school. Both were harmed by persons they were familiar with. Schools are supposed to hire employees after checking their antecedents. However, the two schools, by not checking the antecedents of the accused, failed the trust of the parents who put their children under the care of their managements. Although the school managements charged very high fees for every service provided or not provided in the school they compromised on the safety of the children. Inquiries have revealed that CCTV cameras were not properly installed to capture images of any incident and the windows of toilets were broken.
The two incidents cannot be said to be isolated as scores of heinous crimes against schoolchildren are reported across the country. The incident at Ryan School was not the first, as a similar incident was reported in the school in January last year. Thanks to strong public pressure, the police took prompt action to nab the alleged culprits within hours of crime being committed. The police will now have to show the same zeal and efficiency in completing the probe and filing charge-sheets in both the cases to ensure that the criminals get maximum punishment under the law. In Goa too, a seven-year old girl studying in a reputed school in the port town of Vasco was raped on the school premises more than four years ago. Unfortunately the case, despite being handled by the Central Bureau of Investigation, has remained unsolved till this day. Unable to detect the culprit the CBI has sought to close down the case. The school headmistress and two others accused of destroying evidence from the crime scene were recently acquitted by the Children’s Court.
Crimes against schoolchildren are on the rise, but the school and law enforcement authorities wake up only when an incident takes place. The Haryana government and the police top brass have promised to complete the probe and file charge-sheets at the earliest and let us hope they stick to it. In the case of the five-year-old girl’s rape case Chief Minister of Delhi Arvind Kejriwal ordered a magisterial probe and sought report within three weeks. It is surprising that authorities choose to act from incident to incident and fail to ensure that the schools, which have been permitted by them to operate, have adequate systems and facilities in place for imparting education as well as for the safety of students. Though education department officials are supposed to inspect each school at least once a year it is not known whether such inspections ever take place. While the school managements are being held responsible for the crimes that take place on the campuses of their schools the education department inspectors appear to have been ‘absolved’ of their negligence by allowing the schools to run without adequate provisions and shirking their responsibilities. An audit of the reports of the education department officials should be carried out to find out whether they had pointed out shortcomings in the schools and whether they were remedied by the school managements.
The rising number of crimes against schoolchildren should propel the authorities at the Centre as well as at the state level to make it mandatory for the school managements to not only have proper educational facilities but also foolproof mechanism to ensure safety of the students on their campuses. Given the fact that these schools charge heavy fees from parents the authorities should make it mandatory for each school to have all required facilities before they become operational. The government should impose heavy penalties on the managements which compromise safety of the children. Besides, in cases of similar crimes happening on the school campuses, the authorities should also check the roles of the education inspectors to find out whether they condoned the shortcomings in the schools during inspections or not. The officials should carry out regular inspections of school premises and schools should set up units for storing CCTV footages. It is the duty of the school managements to ensure safety of students. The government too must play an important role in monitoring whether the school managements are maintaining effective safety systems.