Two cases of sexual assault were reported from Bengaluru schools late in October, leaving parents frustrated and more than a little helpless. A three-year-old child was allegedly attacked in a school in Jalahalli in north Bangalore and days later, a six-year-old was abused in a school within the Jeevan Bima Nagar police limits. In August, the rape of an eight-year-old girl was reported from a private school premises on Kanakpura Road.

Protests over six-year-old girl being raped in a school in Marathahalli in July made the government and police sit up and take notice that many schools had staff that were unverified and unqualified to be around children. The police and the state Department of Education issued guidelines for schools to follow to protect students. Schools have been struggling to implement these new guidelines due and the Bengaluru police have now filed charges against at least 180 institutions for not having completed the task.

But the guidelines themselves are problematic, say child rights activists in the city who feel the solution lies in implementing provisions for child protection under the Right To Education act. “There is already a monitoring body called the Commission for Protection of Child Rights and their role is to monitor the implementation of the Right To Education Act,” pointed out Nina Nayak, former member of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights. “This body should be strengthened, they should have a separate cell, and they should have a task force.”

Disproportionate focus on CCTVs in schools

The police guidelines ask that schools install CCTVs in all classrooms, corridors and common areas and GPS devices in school buses. Schools, that have so far complained that the guidelines are too expensive to put in place, are now seeking permission to collect additional fees from parents in order to get the job done. “If you look at CCTVs, the cost is coming back on to the parents, many of whom don’t earn much but are putting their children in these schools because they want an English education for them,” said Suchitra Rao, a member of the MC Nanaiah Committee constituted in the wake of the Marathahalli case to look into child protection measures. “The child’s right to privacy is being violated and you’re affecting the conduct of children.”

Vasudeva Sharma, executive director of the Child Rights Trust says that CCTVs can perform only a limited role. “Are you going to put a CCTV behind every tree, every pillar, in the bathroom and private places? Who is going to monitor the CCTVs?” he questioned. School staff will monitor CCTV feed but, as the Marathahalli case highlighted, many schools are prone to hushing up incidents of sexual abuse rather than reporting them.

A drawn out process of verifying school employees

The Bengaluru police has asked that all school employees submit to background checks and be registered with their local police stations. Yet, there has been no concerted effort to complete such verification. “Even at the cost of closing schools for one week or 15 days, you need to finish the police verification of all those who are employed there,” Nayak said.

On the other hand, there is no way to ensure the veracity of the background checks in the absence of a monitoring body. “The police conducting background checks is really doubtful because they can be bribed," said Sharma. "If a private security firm comes in for background and they do it for a fee it will become a scam.”

Still No Sex Ed

The Child Rights Trust and other activists have long been campaigning for education in schools about sexuality, the right types of behavior and how to take care of themselves. Not surprisingly the government, schools, and parents have resisted the idea.

The new guidelines don’t specify parents’ participation

The Right To Education act mandates that all schools have a School Management Committee that involves students’ parents or guardians in the running of the school and monitoring its activities. Both Nayak and Sharma observe that these SMCs are hardly active in any schools in the city and the new guidelines ignore their requirement. Meanwhile, nervous parents across the city with wards in various schools are forming their own groups like the Bangalore School Parents Association.