Three incidents of children being sexually abused on school buses and vans, reported in the last four months, have brought the issue of children’s safety, while going to school and coming back home, once more into focus. While school authorities claim that they have gone the extra mile to ensure safety — with measures such as installing GPS tracking systems, having woman attendants on board, and organising regular meetings of the transport committee with parents and local police — they blame parents for allegedly opting for ‘unsafe’ transport modes such as private unregistered vans or autorickshaws.
Principal Frank Freese of Bishops School said that while private vans do comply with the norms at the time of registration, these rules are forgotten in a couple of months. “The school cannot keep checking these vans. Parents must ensure not to send children to school in vans that do not follow norms, but often they don’t keep track,” he said.
Schools which don’t have their own transport system, and have entered into agreements with private van drivers, say that the bigger challenge is monitoring autorickshaws which students travel in. “In case of van drivers, we can get them registered, check their records and also the past behaviour. But is that possible in case of autorickshaws? Vans, whether private or owned by the schools, have to follow certain basic norms to secure permits, but no such rule applies to autos,” he said.
Meanwhile, parents blamed schools for the situation. “My house is located less than 1.5 km away from the school and yet the school bus charges me Rs 1,500 per month to pick up and drop my child. They say it doesn’t matter where the bus stop is, the charges are standard. Compared to that, I send my child to school in a van, operated by a driver who has been ferrying school children for years, and everyone knows him. This year, there is even a woman attendant on board. I end up paying Rs 750 for the same transport, so which option is logical,” said Meeta Chaturvedi, a parent from NIBM Road.
In another case, a parent residing at Hadapsar said the school bus pick-up point was at least 500 metres from her house. “The private van comes till the building gate and I know all the other children in the van… they are from our society,” said Rinku Sheth.
Anveet Pathak, director of Millennium School, said almost 20 per cent of students come to school in private vehicles, and the school had no control over them. “The driver tries to cut costs by eliminating the woman attendant and other measures. But if we work with them… we can ensure that they follow the norms,” he said.