Making schools safe in India

Tragically, all the CCTV cameras and safe touch sessions did not prevent a Grade 7 student from taking her own life because she could not take the humiliation of her science teacher any more.

Self-harm is the biggest cause of death of 13 to 17-year-olds in India. Mental health awareness in our country is abysmally low to deal with the consequences of emotional and psycho-social abuse that is going on. Emotional abuse stems from bullying, teacher humiliation, peer pressure, a tough learning syllabus and parental expectations. Some indicators of emotional abuse are depression, anxiety, obsessions, suicidal behaviour and substance abuse.

Students who commit suicide do not necessarily have mental illness. Their coping mechanism to deal with small frustrations, failure or loss is poor, according to Dr Harish Shetty, psychiatrist at Dr LH Hiranandani Hospital. Any event relating to one’s immediate environment may result in an emotionally traumatic experience.

According to the World Health Organisation, the mental health workforce in India for 100,000 people is 0.3 psychiatrists, 0.12 nurses, 0.07 psychologists and 0.07 social workers, which translates to about one person to care for 200,000 people.

Education departments issue frequent orders to schools for installing CCTV cameras and ending corporal punishment. There is an effort to prevent the visible physical and sexual abuse of children, but very little is being done to prevent the invisible emotional abuse. This is the silent killer.

The need for child protection officers at schools and children’s projects

A district child protection officer estimates that 50,000 children in her district are at high risk of emotional abuse and neglect due to family discord and discrimination at home and at school. There is only one child protection officer for each district supported by a handful of social workers.

Viva has trained teachers and childcare workers in 150 schools and projects, and we found that almost all of them don’t have a designated child protection officer to make teachers aware of symptoms of emotional abuse.

Viva’s child safeguarding intervention

Viva runs three levels of safeguarding training:

  • Safe touch training for children: a 30-to-40-minute, age-appropriate training session for children on what safe touch is and how to report abuse.
  • Child protection training for school teachers: a 4-hour training for teachers or any adult working with children. It includes understanding child rights, child abuse, awareness of laws, code of conduct for working with children and reporting abuse.
  • Safeguarding policy writing workshop: a 3-day safeguarding policy writing workshop for proper implementation of child protection systems and policy at schools and institutions working with children.

As a result of Viva’s training, one school reported that it included the new practice of teachers filling in the abuse incident reporting form.

A quarterly meeting of the child safety committee was also scheduled in the school calendar.

A child protection specialist helped the manager of an orphan boys’ home to write their first safeguarding policy. The ignorance of child protection laws had prevented the home to apply to social services for registration.

After the child protection policy is in place, the manager of the home is confident that children are protected according to the law.

Please pray for fruit from discussions with the government for Viva to train 18,000 primary school teachers in government schools of Delhi.

Article by Gary Kamaal, Viva India Director