Concerned over children being exposed to unknown people through the Delhi government’s ‘Desh Ka Mentor’ programme and the potential for crime and abuse, apex child rights body NCPCR has said the scheme should be suspended till all the loopholes are taken care of.
Claiming that the programme, which aims at providing career guidance to schoolchildren, will expose them to certain dangers, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights last month wrote to the Delhi chief secretary and again earlier this week to say the response received was “ineffectual”.
“It has been stated in the response that ‘to protect against violation, mentees are assigned mentors who are from the same gender, it is imperative to place here that abuse or assault or sexual or otherwise, is not gender biased but same gender does not necessarily assure the safety of any child in any terms,” the NCCPR said in its letter to Chief Secretary Vijay Kumar Dev on Monday.
The programme should be suspended till all loopholes pertaining to the safety of children are “overhauled”, it said, adding that the response received appears to be “ineffectual in completely dousing the safety issues pertaining to the exposure of children towards unknown people leading to potential crime/abuse”.
The ‘Desh Ka Mentor’ programme, which has Bollywood actor Sonu Sood as its brand ambassador, was launched by the Delhi government in October. Under the programme, students of Classes 9 to 12 of Delhi government schools will be guided by dedicated mentors in exploring diverse career and life options.
It entails ‘adopting’ up to 10 government school students to be mentored by citizens who are successful in their respective fields.
According to the NCPCR, the personnel involved in dealing with the scheme do not seem to be gender sensitised and also seem to lack knowledge about the nuances of child sexual abuse. They are also not aware of laws related to children, including POCSO Act, 2012 and JJ Act, 2015, the commission said.
It added that the letter received is silent on the question of police verification and hence it seems no police verification is being done of the mentees to ensure the safety of the children.
“It has been mentioned in the response that ‘registration process includes psychometric tests of the mentees before they are accepted into the program’. Is this Psychometric Test analyzed/checked/scrutinized by professional practising experts? Can this Psychometric Test identify Pedophiles or potential Pedophiles?” the NCPCR asked.
The commission said the response mentions that the interaction between the mentor and the mentee is done through phone calls.
“It may be noted that child-related crime can be initiated through phone calls as well. For instance, children are susceptible to probable child trafficking through phone calls. Is there any mechanism to prevent the origin of cybercrimes and child trafficking? The response also presents that parents of the mentees enrolled fill their consent forms to allow their child to join the program. The consent of parents is indeed an essential prerequisite for involving children in such activities,” it said.
However, this does not help in preventing any violent abuse against children. The responsibility and accountability of preventing children from such situations lie with the department. The consent of parents cannot be used as a cushion in case of any untoward incident, the Commission said. It asked for a compliance report with supporting documents within seven days.