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Thursday, March 28, 2013

How safe is the school bus policy? Mahesh Benkar

 Just when schools and parents had moved on from the case of a three-year-old girl being molested by a school bus cleaner, another case has shaken everybody. This is the third of its kind reported this year and parents and schools are quickly becoming more apprehensive about the concept of the school bus safety policy which has been implemented in all three cases. 

    "In my experience as a school principal, I have never heard of such a case. It is something unimaginable and we can come to conclusions only once there is some clarity. We are doing everything possible to ensure the safety of our children," said Lalitha Hariharan, principal, Rizvi Springfield High School, Bandra (W). She added that at her school, as prescribed by the bus policy, there is a rule that a child should be handed over only to the parent/guardian at the time of dropping them off after school or be brought back to school. "Almost all schools are following all rules and still such incidents take place," she added. 
    Many schools have started discus
sions with parents about installing CCTV cameras on buses. At Utpal Sanghavi School, Andheri (W), parents have formed a system wherein they travel with students on the bus everyday. "It was difficult to start the process but we realized there was no other way out. Even today we face difficulties when some parents can't make it on time but somehow, another parent fills the space," said Rusit Patel, PTA member from the school. He added that as a pilot project, two buses have been fitted with CCTV cameras and other buses will follow suit. 
    The police security and protection department recently advised schools to install the cameras on school buses to increase security of children. They also advised schools to ensure background checks on drivers, cleaners and attendants before hiring them. However, not many schools are following this advice. "We depend on bus contractors to do background checks. Since we don't own a fleet of buses, it should be the contractors' responsibility to hire people who can be trusted with the safety of children," said the principal of a Navi Mumbai school. 

HOW IT WAS DISCOVERED 

    The victim's mother suspected something wrong in his behaviour. Her suspicion grew when he insisted that he did not want to go to school. This had been going on since March 18 but he didn't reveal anything out of fear 
    The matter came to light when the victim's family doctor checked him for fever and found injuries on his private parts on March 25. The boy had nightmares and cried in his sleep 

    The mother gained her son's confidence and he revealed that the lady attendant of the school bus, after picking him from the crèche, use to hand him over to a man midway to school 
    The man, after allegedly sexually abusing the boy for three hours, would return him to the attendant when she picked students to drop them back home. The police arrested the 18-year-old attendant 
PAST CASES AND STATUS 
February 21, 2013 | Malad cops arrested Sandeep Mandhare (23), a school bus cleaner, for molesting a 3-year-old pre-school student. Girl's parents suspected something amiss when she kissed them like an adult. She said'bus uncle' had taught her that. Mandhare was released on bail two days after his arrest 
January 15, 2013 | Parents of a KG student of a Juhu ICSE school filed a police complaint against the bus conductor. The 4-year-old 
kid told the parents about being 'inappropriately touched'. The father complained to the school. The father and school filed an FIR against the conductor, Ramesh Rajput (35), who was arrested. He is in judicial custody SCHOOL BUS POLICY 
    Onus of children's safety lies equally with school and bus contractor 

    But once the bus leaves the school premises, if an untoward incident takes place, the contractor is solely responsible for the safety and security of children 
SAFETY RECOMMENDATIONS 
    Ban on private vehicles ferrying children. Parents should be encouraged to send children only in buses approved by the school authorities 
    Compulsory background checks of school bus personnel, 
including lady attendant 
Need for CCTV cameras on school buses 
Presence of parent on school bus, especially those ferrying tiny tots, from first till last stop 
WHAT USED TO HAPPEN The victim's mother complained that the lady attendant in the bus used to handover her son to a man in an auto-rickshaw midway to school. The man used to allegedly take him to a house, where he used to sexually assault him for three hours before returning him to the attendant. This had been happening for a few weeks. 
NATURE OF INJURIES 

    The family doctor revealed that the boy had injuries on his private parts. The police are awaiting the medical report to confirm the complaint 
TEEN HELD FOR SODOMY Ateenager has been arrested by the Valiv police in Vasai (E) for sodomising a minor boy. The victim's father, in his police complaint, stated that their 16-year-old neighbour abused his 11-year-old son near their residence. The victim, who confided in his father, has been sent to the Bhiwandi children's home. The accused has been arrested under section 377 (unnatural sex) of the Indian Penal Code. TNN



The parents of a 6-year-old student of a Kurla international schoolsuspected something was wrong when he got nightmares and used to cry at night


The family doctor checked him for fever and discovered that he had injuries on his private parts. This is when the boy revealed what was happening everyday


The police said the bus owner, driver and cleaner had been summoned for questioning, while the 18-year-old attendant, Farah Khan, had been arrested

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