What Happened To Odisha’s Safe Environment For Children Initiative?

Bhubaneswar: Children are innocent and at the same time vulnerable. Though Odisha government had issued guidelines in 2014 for creating safe environment in educational institutions, such instructions are yet to be implemented even in 6 years.

What makes such an omission criminal is the fact that there has been a significant rise in atrocities against children – be it mental, physical or even sexual. As per several surveys, 41% girls and 55% boys are subjected to sexual assault. Surprisingly, in 90% of the cases, the tormentors are either school staff or some relative of the victim.

“Despite our busy schedule and manpower shortage, we are educating children how to keep themselves safe. Child protection officer is yet to be appointed, but we are hopeful to get one soon,” said Prabhati Mishra, teacher Bapuji Government Upper Primary School.

“We are aware of the rule, but we are yet to get any letter from the government. We will certainly act if we get any communication,” said Gadadhar Patra, assistant superintendent of Sahid Laxman Nayak Tribal Hostel.

The State government had earlier issued guidelines for creating ‘safe environment’ for children at educational institutions as well as hostels. Though several suggestions were made and instructions were issued to implement such guidelines, nothing much has been done towards it even though six years have passed.

As per the policy, it is the responsibility of the institution to ensure the safety of the child while he/she is within the premises or is using any of the services offered by the institution like summer classes, bus facility, excursion, inter school meet or any competitive event etc.

Apart from ensuring a framework to develop their internal protocols for redressal of sexual abuse cases, the institutions were asked to give stress mainly on prevention, reporting & record keeping, response and follow-up and support.

“As per a study of WCD Ministry, nearly 53% children i.e. one out of two children are subjected to sexual abuse and two out of three are subjected to physical abuse. The way the atrocities are increasing, there is a need for strict implementation of the guidelines, but so far it has not happened in any institutions in the State,” said Benudhar Senapati, director Childline.

Though several departments including, Women and Child Development, SC&ST Development, Sports and Youth Affairs and School and Mass Education departments were asked to review the implementation of the prescribed guidelines, it seems that the concerned departments have faltered.

Response from the concerned departments could not be received.