PUNE: At least 60 teachers were suspended in Pune Zilla Parishad (ZP) for sexual misconduct offences in the last two years owing to increased awareness about the laws as well as good touch-bad touch programmes, ZP chief executive officer Ayush Prasad said on Saturday. The rising cases, experts said, demanded deployment of counsellors in government-run schools, an aspect which has been overlooked so far.
“Around 60 teachers, highest so far, have been suspended in cases falling under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Pocso) Act, 2012, within Pune ZP in the last two years. Awareness drives on the Pocso Act and good touch-bad touch, among others, are the driving factors behind the better reporting of such offences,” Prasad said.
He said as a part of the awareness drive, an NGO conducted online training of about 74,000 people during the Covid-19 period, who reached out to teachers and other stakeholders at their level. “The number of Pocso-related cases has actually quadrupled. Some of these cases are old. But the suspension orders were issued over the last two years,” Prasad said, without delving further into the cases.
He said the matter was serious and they were dealing with all such cases strictly and sensitively.
In contrast, Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation officials said they had just one such case in the last two years. “Just one teacher was suspended due to sexual misconduct in the last two years in civic-run schools in the PCMC limits. Even in that case, his suspension was revoked after he was acquitted by a court. We also have tie-ups with NGOs for workshops on good touch and bad touch, Pocso Act, among others. We also have zonal committees that coordinate with schools for any need-based training module or awareness programme,” said Vikas Dhakne, additional commissioner, PCMC.
Child rights activists said continuous awareness, training programmes and age-appropriate sex education sessions for students were the need of the hour. Successive governments have turned a blind eye to this important aspect, preventing proper sex education in schools, they alleged.
“We need a change in mindset. Children should be empowered to express themselves without fear, and complain if their rights are violated. Strict action must be taken against people involved in such offences. While a counselor in every school will be ideal, teachers can also be trained in this aspect. It can be introduced as a compulsory course in the teacher training module or an add-on course for the existing teachers,” said Ingrid Mendonca, deputy regional coordinator at Terre des hommes, Germany, a child rights organization with presence in many countries. She is also a member of ‘Action for the Rights of the Child’ (ARC), an umbrella organization for NGOs working for child rights in Pune.
Poonam Londhe, a social worker at Purnkuti NGO who used to work with victims of sexual abuse in an observation home, said one major aspect left out in such cases was counseling for victims as well as their family members. “The child coming back to school must feel that it is a safe space. The people around the victims should behave in a way that doesn’t further their trauma. The victims require professional counselling and it would help if every school has a professional counsellor.”
She also emphasized on the need of continuous programmes on child rights within the school premises. “Besides, a fearless environment should be created in schools to allow students complain about violation of their rights without fear,” Londhe said.
Pune Municipal Corporation’s education officer Minakshi Raut refused to comment on the matter.