Monday, July 22, 2024

Goa child rights body moots measures to stop sexual assaults in schools

Along with the strict enforcement of the POCSO Act, 2012 in educational institutions, Goa State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (GSCPCR) has suggested several measures to make schools a safer place for children.

Stating that there is an alarming rise in sexual assaults on children in Goa, GSCPCR Chairperson Peter F Borges has asked the Education Department to take steps to arrest attacks on students.

“The alarming rise in sexual assaults on children in Goa, within the premises of schools and no action or delayed action, being reported in schools, are distressing incidents that highlight the urgent need for comprehensive measures to tackle this pervasive issue,” Borges said.

Speaking to IANS, he said that recommendations have been sent to the Education Department, so that the measures can be taken.

“The students, who are focused on learning, growing, and building their futures, are instead subjected to appalling acts of violence and trauma. There is outright abuse of power and trust that both the child and the parents put in the school and those working in any capacity within these institutions,” he further said.

“It is imperative that the Directorate of Education acknowledge the gravity of the problem, confront the harsh reality, and direct the school authorities to act decisively and quickly when faced with a complaint of child sexual abuse, to ensure the safety and well-being of the children.

“Under Section 44, Rule 6 of the POCSO Act, 2012, the Commission is solely empowered, in addition to the functions assigned to it under the Act, to monitor its provisions. In exercise of this function, the Commission has proposed amendments to the existing circular on POCSO by the Directorate of Education after consultation with stakeholders in the child protection system,” Borges said.

While suggesting the measures, he said that in case of any child reporting an incident of sexual abuse, the same should be immediately reported to the counsellor to provide psychosocial and emotional support to the student.

“The counselors appointed by the Goa Education Development Corporation shall be duty-bound to cooperate and assist every child who reports any incident of sexual abuse. If the incident of sexual abuse is directly mentioned to the counsellor, s/he is duty-bound to report in writing the said incident to the police station after intimating the headmaster of the institution,” Borges said in a recommendation to the Education Department.

He said that it will be the duty of every headmaster to take the necessary steps mandated under the POCSO Act, 2012 and intimate the department of steps taken, within 24 hours.

“Intimation shall also be given to District Child Protection Unit which can provide additional psycho-social, legal, and rehabilitative support to the child and to the GSCPCR which has the mandate to monitor the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012,” the letter states.

“The institutions must take proactive measures to prevent child sexual abuse by installing CCTV cameras. Warning signs must also be installed in all strategic areas of the institution.

“Monitor the activities of staff members, visitors, and strangers to ensure the children’s safety. Monitor any activities that involve photographing children, using photographs of children, using the internet, or using technology on school grounds,” the letter further said.

“It is mandatory to do thorough background checks of staff before they are hired to ensure there are no previous records of the offence of sexual abuse against them. Organise student awareness sessions to teach children about the concepts of ‘good touch’, ‘bad touch’, sexual abuse, online safety and protection. Children should be able to tell someone if they have been sexually abused,” it said.

“Establish and strategically place safety boxes to receive complaints around the school, away from CCTV surveillance. These should be manned and reviewed periodically by the District Child Protection Unit and law enforcement agencies in the jurisdiction of the school,” it added.

During the Monsoon Session of the Assembly, Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant had said that his government intends to install CCTV cameras in government schools across Goa for the safety of children.

Sawant, while replying to a question raised by the BJP’s Vasco MLA Krishna Salkar, said that around 79 schools will have CCTV cameras on the campus. Salkar had raised the issue in regards to the safety of schoolchildren.

In January 2013, a 7-year-old girl was allegedly sexually assaulted in a school toilet in Vasco-South Goa. The BJP Government in power then was criticised by political parties and the people of the state.

Subsequent to this incident the Education Department had issued circulars asking school managements to take safety measures. One of the vital measures suggested was to install CCTV cameras in schools.

“Unknown persons shall not be allowed to meet students. Whenever parents or guardians are permitted to meet their wards in school premises during school hours, adequate scrutiny and meeting arrangements have to be done by the school,” a circular issued in January, 17, 2013, stated.

“A female teacher shall accompany the girl students when they go out of the school campus for competitions, sports and school excursions,” it further said.



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