Updated: January 15, 2022 7:23:53 am
Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia Friday referred to the notice issued by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), recommending suspension of the Delhi government’s ‘Desh ke Mentor’ programme over safety concerns, a “conspiracy by the BJP”.
Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal also took to Twitter to state: “If some good work is being done in the country, then instead of stopping it, it should be implemented across the country. The BJP government at the Centre is requested not to do politics on this. It is a question of the future of poor children. Through this programme, education is becoming a mass movement.”
Launched in October 2021, the programme is aimed at providing voluntary mentors to students in classes IX to XII. People between the ages of 18 and 35 can sign up to become mentors through an app created by a team at Delhi Technological University, and will be connected to students based on mutual interests. The mentorship entails regular phone calls for a minimum period of two months, which can be carried on for four more months optionally.
The NCPCR had stated that it received a representation from one Lalit Wadher last November who alleged that the programme brings together children and “unknown persons” and exposes them to danger. Following this, the child rights body sought a response from the Delhi government on measures to ensure children’s safety. After the response was filed, the NCPCR stated that it was “ineffectual” and recommended that the programme be suspended immediately “until all loopholes pertaining to safety are overhauled”.
Sisodia alleged that the notice was an attempt by the BJP to derail education initiatives: “… The BJP has used the NCPCR to issue directions that the government halt this programme. They have got a complaint from one of its workers in Chhattisgarh… They are always worried that if children of the coming generation are educated, how will they be trapped in the darkness of our misdeeds? How will we sway them? How will we keep them tangled in communal fights? They are also scared that if the educated youth start mentoring, how will they start caste-religion fights with messages forwarded on WhatsApp University.”
According to Sisodia, 44,000 young people are currently acting as mentors under the programme. He said that of these, 500 are IIT graduates, 500 are IIM graduates, 15,600 are studying – from graduation to PhDs – and 15,600 are working.
In its notice, the NCPCR had expressed concern over the lack of verification of the mentors, especially to check if they have any record of crimes against children.
To which Sisodia responded: “These youth are all volunteering… we have made sure that if it’s a male mentor, mentees are also male. If a girl wants a mentor, she will be assigned a female mentor… We have made the volunteers undergo a psychometric test and trained them. 750 youths did not clear the test and were not assigned mentees… Government schools have 5.5 lakh children and we asked all of them if they want mentors; 2.2 lakh asked their parents and we have been able to assign mentors to 1.76 lakh children.”
NCPCR chairperson Priyank Kanoongo said Sisodia bypassed concerns raised by the child rights body and tried to deflect from them in his press conference. “In our letter, we very specifically asked if the psychometric test is being done by any professionals, if it has the provisions to identify any professional rapist… Now if someone comes and says that they are an IIT pass out, or an IIM pass out, what is the mechanism for cross-checking that? That’s all we’re asking. They’re saying that their concern is that these are children of poor parents, that is our concern too… It is the government’s responsibility that when they are connecting the children to someone, the children and their parents are putting their trust in the government, not in that person they are being connected (with)… Rule 3 of the POCSO Act specifically mentions that staff of the school and people (who) will regularly be in contact with (the) school should have police verification… Good people might connect to children through this app but what is there to stop the bad people… NCPCR has very cautiously used the term ‘suspend’ not ‘termination’,” he said.
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