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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Explained: Why NCPCR sought suspension of Delhi govt’s Desh ke Mentor programme

🔴 A controversy has broken out over the Delhi government's flagship 'Desh ke Mentor' programme. What is it, and what are the concerns raised by the NCPCR? How has the Delhi government responded?

Written by Sukrita Baruah , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: January 16, 2022 4:28:32 am
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal with Deputy CM Manish Sisodia (Express Photo: Prem Nath Pandey)

A controversy recently broke out after the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) recommended that the Delhi government suspend its flagship ‘Desh ke Mentor’ programme till “the time when all the loopholes pertaining to the safety of the children are overhauled”. On Friday, both Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia hit back, claiming the move was a “conspiracy by the BJP” to derail its education initiatives.

What is the Desh ke Mentor programme?

The programme was launched in October 2021 and is aimed at connecting students in classes IX to XII with voluntary mentors. People between the ages of 18 and 35 can sign up to be mentors through an app created by a team at the Delhi Technological University and will be connected with students based on mutual interests. The mentorship entails regular phone calls for a minimum of two months, which can optionally be carried on for another four months. The idea is for the young mentors to guide students through higher education and career options, preparation for higher education entrance exams, and dealing with the pressure of it all. According to Sisodia, 44,000 people have signed up as mentors so far and have been working with 1.76 lakh children.

How is a person selected to be a mentor?

The registration process takes place on the Desh ke Mentor app. The volunteer has to fill in information about themselves such as their date of birth, education qualification, profession, organisation they work with and so on. However, it is optional for them to upload any proof of identity. On the app, the candidate has to accept an undertaking which states, “I hereby declare that all the information provided by me is true to the best of my knowledge and that I have never been charged for (or involved in) any activities relating to the violation of the rights of children”.

Following this, they have to complete a brief ‘psychometry test’ which involves candidates having to rate how much they agree or disagree to statements such as ‘I am willing to put a great deal of effort to excel in my professional life’, ‘Men and women should be treated equally in our society’ and ‘I think lying is justified when I can benefit by doing so’.

Once the registration is complete, the mentor is connected to a set of children of the same gender as themselves whose interests align with theirs. Students have to take parental consent before becoming a part of the programme.

What are the concerns raised by the NCPCR regarding this process?

There are five primary points on which the NCPCR has raised concerns with regard to the programme:

i. It has stated that assigning children to a mentor of the same gender as them does not necessarily assure their safety from abuse.

ii. It has also expressed concern over the lack of police verification of the mentors.

iii. On the psychometric test it has asked, “Is this Psychometric Test a full (sic) proof assessment of a person in terms of potential threat to any child? Is this Psychometric Test analyzed/checked/scrutinized by professional practising experts? Can this Psychometric Test identify paedophiles or potential paedophiles?”

iv. It has also stated that limiting interactions to phone calls also does not ensure the safety of children since “child related crime can be initiated through phone calls as well.”

v. It has stated that while taking the consent of parents is an essential pre-requisite, the “responsibility and accountability of preventing children from such situation lies with the Department. The consent of parents cannot be used as a cushion in case of any untoward incident.”

How has the Delhi government responded?

The programme has not been paused so far. On Friday, Sisodia said, “Panicking because of this programme, the BJP has attempted to put a stop to it with a conspiracy. The BJP has used the NCPCR to issue directions that the Delhi government put a stop to this programme… The BJP is always worried if the children of the coming generation are educated, how will we trap them 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 the coming generation, how will they start caste-religion fights with messages forwarded on WhatsApp University?”

On the safety concerns, he stated, “These youths 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 give a psychometric test and trained them. Around 750 youths did not clear the psychometric test and were not assigned mentees… Government schools have 5.5 lakh children and we asked all of them if they want mentors. Those who wanted, got their parents’ consent. Around 2.2 lakh asked their parents and we have been able to give mentors to 1.76 lakh children,” he added.

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