Holistic human rights education essential to make schools safer

Mechanisms to prevent violence against children in schools must be holistic, sustained, consistent in their intent and focused on upholding human rights, Amnesty International India said today, following the dissemination of new guidelines on safety measures in schools by the government of Karnataka.

On 23 July 2014, the Karnataka Department of Public Instruction issued directions to schools regarding “Safety Measures and Guidelines for School children”. There have been several protests in Bangalore, Karnataka, in recent days following the rape of a girl in a private school in the city on 2 July 2014.  

The guidelines recommend the formation of child protection committees, surveillance, staff background checks and restrictions on access to children. The Department of Public Instruction has issued other guidelines on school safety earlier.

“The various guidelines issued by the authorities in Karnataka unfortunately do not form a coherent response to issues of violence against children in schools,” said Tara Rao, Director, Human Rights Education, Amnesty International India. “It is important to have a holistic approach to institute secure school environments.”

“The authorities and schools must work together to cultivate long-term, sustainable respect for human rights values and principles in all areas of school life, and not focus only on surveillance and monitoring. It is essential to ensure all members of the school community – students, teachers, parents and management – are involved in awareness-raising, sensitization and training aimed at preventing violence against children and creating healthy learning environments. Children must have access to effective complaints mechanisms, and there must be efficient systems to identify and report abuse.”

Amnesty International India’s Human Rights Education (HRE) Programme works with schools to make them ‘human rights friendly’, placing human rights at the heart of the learning process, seeking to create and sustain school spaces that uphold principles of equality, dignity, and respect, non-discrimination and participation.

“The HRE programme works with 30 schools in Bangalore, and is expanding to other parts of the country. It sets up mechanisms and spaces for parents, teachers, management and students to discuss issues within the school. The programme contributes towards ensuring that human rights are learnt, practiced and respected, from the ground up,” said Tara Rao.

Benazir Baig, founder of the Excellent School in Bangalore, which participates in Amnesty International India’s HRE programme, said, “Everybody in our school community has been involved in the programme, including teachers. It is important for more schools to introduce programmes that create an environment that prevents violence against children.”

International law recognizes the right of every child to be protected from violence in schools. The UN Human Rights Committee, which monitors the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – to which India is a state party – notes that “every possible economic and social measure should be taken… to prevent [children] from being subjected to acts of violence.” The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – to which India is a state party – requires states to “take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse.”

The understanding that the guarantee of “measures of protection” includes protection from violence reflects the reality that the consequences of harassment and violence may include depriving children of other rights, including the right to education. Having laws and policies that enable authorities to address violence in schools is an important first step towards guaranteeing these rights.