To encourage children to speak up against abuse and harassment of any kind, all schools across Vadodara will install ‘POCSO Mitra’ boxes, which the students can use to put in their grievances.
The pilot phase of the project, being undertaken by Baroda Citizens Council (BCC) with support from the District Education Department, was flagged off in November, 2017 in 50 schools. The boxes are green telephone-shaped.
The team from BCC involved in the project also conducted counselling sessions with the children and parents at these schools to explain to them what amounted to harassment and to encourage them to report cases, if any.
By August 2018, through these sessions and the chits in the POCSO Mitra boxes, the team received as many as 315 cases. Of these, 26 amount to sexual harassment and abuse of children, 35 are cases of harassment. There were also 174 instances of the children seeking clarification on issues of harassment.
Many issues have so far been resolved through the intervention of Childline — a helpline for children in distress — with support from the allied systems and in a few cases rescue operations have been undertaken for the children.
“We will soon be implementing the idea across all schools in Vadodara. At a point in time when sexual, emotional and physical abuse of a child is a prominent issue be it inside or outside their house and around known or unknown people, projects like this will help bridge the gap between the students and us,” said Vadodara District Collector Shalini Agrawal.
The project, BCC executive director Priya Jagdale said, began as an outreach programme for Childline (1098 helpline number) and eventually developed into the POCSO Mitra box.
“During the outreach program, we realised that children tend to keep certain incidents to themselves. We then came up with the POCSO Mitra boxes, which were preceded by sessions with parents, teachers, school authorities and students and assuring them that they will always have someone to share their grievances with. There were some students who wanted to share a particular incident but would not name themselves or would talk in the third person. To minimise the issue of students not divulging their identities, we came up with colour codes for chits for separate classes so it was easier to at least identify the group the student belonged,” Jagdale said.
Citing one case, Jagdale said that a student from 5th standard had reported about a man from her residential society flashing his private parts in front of her and making obscene gestures in presence of young girls. While she spoke to the team about it, she was scared of telling her parents.
Childline and POCSO Mitra team then conducted a search in the society. They later had the girl identify the man and confronted him about the incident. A month after the intervention, the girl said that the incidents were not reported.
“However, in many cases the children and parents do not like to file formal complaints. Whenever we visit someone of conduct a rescue operation we keep the police station of the area informed,” Jagdale said.
In one such case, cited by Jagdale, where the Childline had intervened pertained to a first standard student who was being subjected to physical abuse. She was living with her stepmother and step sisters and her father was in a different city. The child was often beaten up and not given enough food. She was put in child care until her father’s return however, they refused to file a complaint against the step mother.
The Vadodara city Childline 35 to 40 cases in a month. Meanwhile, the Railway Childline, launched in January 2018, receives 10 to 15 cases a month. The Childline was also launched in Chhota Udepur in May this year where on an average 10 to 15 cases are registered per month. The POCSO Mitra boxes have been funded by Voltamp Transformers Ltd as a CSR project.