Here are some reasons why we at Mudita Foundation believe that schools can play an active role in ensuring children’s safety and protection.
- Emotions are the gateway to learning: As a teacher, your primary job is to ensure that children are learning. However, if a child in your class is experiencing abuse at the hands of someone inside or outside the school, it is very likely to have a devastating impact on the child’s emotional well-being and thus, her/his ability to learn. Several research studies have established that child abuse and neglect can have serious consequences on children’s physical, psychological, cognitive and behavioural development, and consequently their ability to learn in a school. Unless the dark shadow of abuse is lifted from a child’s life, a teacher will never be able fully achieve their goal of educating the child.
- Schools can be unsafe too: Despite the best efforts from educators and school staff, children can feel very unsafe inside school premises as well. Children can feel unsafe if they are bullied, or if they are sexually abused by other children or adults in school. Children can also face risks on their way to school and back. Children can also feel discriminated against or excluded on account of various factors in their personal or social life. Children can also feel unsafe simply because they are not able to learn what they are expected to.
- Children undergoing abuse can confide in their teachers: Teachers share a unique bond with children. Children who may be facing abuse or violence in their life need a trusted adult who will listen to them and believe them. It has been seen that teachers can and often have played that role of an adult in which the child can disclose what is happening to them. At times, if the child’s family is not able to provide the necessary support to the child, teachers can step in to work with the child and the family.
- Personal safety can be taught: Prevention of abuse begins with education and awareness. Children need to be given the right knowledge, skills and attitudes to keep themselves safe and to ensure that they do not infringe on anyone else’s safety either. Educators can play a key role by providing this knowledge in an age-appropriate manner, continuously and consistently.
- Being in school can reduce risks of abuse and exploitation of vulnerable children: Children who have been pushed to the social and economic margins of our society, are at much higher risk of violence, abuse and exploitation in the forms of child labour, forced or bonded labour, child marriages, child trafficking, discrimination and other exclusionary practices. The longer children stay in schools, the lower is their risk of falling prey to these exploitative and abusive practices.
- Safety is the right of children. Indian as well as international laws and conventions clearly and unequivocally recognise that all children have a right to safety. It is the duty of the state and adults to ensure that children’s safety is not compromised for any reason whatsoever. Keeping all our children safe is the collective duty and responsibility of everyone.
Are we as schools aware of this responsibility? Are we as teachers aware of this responsibility? What do we do to fulfil this responsibility? CCTV cameras, rules and norms are one step in this process. Conversations on safety, safe and trustful spaces (physically and virtually) and policies are critical if we are committed to the responsibility of keeping our children safe. We, as Mudita Foundation, are committed to strengthening schools to become safe spaces for all children and will bring to you perspectives, resources and training in partnership with Aditya Birla Education Academy.