Babysana’s case has again brought Manipur to its usual self. Joint Action Committee formed on this issue has called a bandh. Chief Minister has said that it is a case of suicide but does not want to show the post mortem report to prove that it is a case of suicide. The argument is that the government and the concerned departments working on the matter must be trusted. But, why ? If they had taken the matter of child safety seriously then things would have been different. Whether it is a premeditated murder of the girl, as JAC claims or sucide, according to CM, the case brings to light the problems that marred these residential schools and hostels which are cropping up everyday in this state. In this case, Pheiroijam Landhoni, the principal of the school has accepted that there are lapses in the management of the hostel. The question remains on the gravity of those lapses. If there are lapses, then the responsibility is not just of the school, Manipur Commission for Protection Child Rights (MCPCR) must also say something on this matter.
Manipur Commission for Protection Child Rights (MCPCR) in 2018 said that taking “a serious view on the recent incidents of deaths, suicides and sexual assault on minors, who are the inmates of different Boarding and Hostels being run by school authorities and private individuals,” there will be regularory guidelines for hostels of educational institutions for children specific to Manipur. The commission also reported in the media that it had conducted a fact finding in 2018 on this matter and it revealed “several incompetency and unfavourable settings in the management and infrastructures” in hostels for children in this state and it said that the conditions of the residential spaces are “largely detrimental to the security of children.” It has even submitted the draft of the state specific guidelines based on National Commision for Protection of Child Rights’ (NCPCR) 2018 “Regulatory Guidelines for Hostels of Educational Institutions for Children.” The question remains what MCPCR did to those residential institutes for children where lapses and serious compromise to the security of the children were found. NCPCR’s 2018 regulatory guidelines entail that all the hostels whether private or government must be registered. There are regulations on the infrastructure of the hostels. Whether these hostels cropping up everyday in Manipur meet these infrastructural regulations or not, MCPCR must answer. If MCPCR and concerned authorities had taken seriously the matter of security of our children, we would not see the turmoil that has befallen the state now.
How many of these hostels have proper health care for children living there ? It is the responsibility of the superintendent to “ensure the safety, security and psychological well-being of the children residing in the hostel,” according to the guideline. Whether the owners of these hostels show concerned for the physical and psychological well being of the children in their hostels, MCPCR should know about this matter. Are the children in these hostels undergoing regular health check-ups at least thrice by a registered medical practitioner as entailed by NCPCR’s guidelines? MCPCR and owners of these hostels must answer. When it comes to the mental health of the children, the guidelines consider it as an important and dedicates an entire section. If the mental health of a child deteriorates in the hostel and the hostel authority does not do anything, then it is a serious matter as the regulation makes it mandatory that mental health of the children must be looked after in the institute employing trained counselors and doctors. The regulation clearly states that “all persons involved in taking care of the children in a hostel shall participate in facilitating an enabling environment and work in collaboration with the counselor as needed” and must provide “critical mental health intervention, whenever required.” Are there such facilities in all the hostels and residential schools in Manipur, especially in Standard Robarth Higher Secondary School ? MCPCR must say something about this too.
There are allegations that school authority was late in calling the parents and the police. Instead, an organisation who works for the interest of private schools reached there first. If this is true, it is clear violation of NCPCR guidelines. The guidelines entail that hostel superintendent should “immediately report the matter to concerned officials of the district administration” if there is a case of violation of the rights of children. Most importantly, are there children committees being set up which should be solely run by children living in hostels? The committee should be asked about their lives in the residential spaces of Standard Robarth Higher Secondary School? MCPCR must take this matter up. These questions about the safety of our children should haunt all of us and most importantly, the state machinery entrusted with the protection of the rights of our children. This case should make us think about the safety of the children in this society and things we must do.