A friend who visited Japan sometime ago told me what a delight it was, nay, a treat to watch children going to their schools in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Parents would drive their kids to certain fixed points almost 1 km ahead of the school. Then the children attired in colourful school uniforms formed queues led by a flag wielding student of their respective classes.
It was a sight worth beholding. Cluster of colourful flags overlooking scores of children in impeccable lines, as if in a commanded march past start walking towards the school.
What was most astonishing was that the dedicated roads which are used by the children were closed to not only normal traffic but to even emergency movements like ambulance also. It is believed that even the President of Japan is not allowed to use the roads when children are heading for their schools. Such is the unbridled importance given to school children in the world's most industrialised country. Small wonder, the safety guidelines for kids make Japan one of the safest countries in the world.
Contrast it with India. Millions of children across the length and breadth of the country are seen off by their parents, sometimes grand parents as they head for their schools early every morning by various means of transport.
Do we have any guarantee that each of them will be back home safe and happy after school hours? Alas, some children do not return, will never. As many as 50 children die every day on Indian roads for no fault of theirs.
Many children lose their lives in road accidents involving brashly driven run down vehicles often without valid inspection and documents and much less those who are behind the wheels with no licences or training or the rickety vans which are allowed to run without any sanctioned authority whatsoever. The culprits are many - school owners, bus owners, the state administration – all overlooking the 'system'.
In India, children are a least priority despite the fact that the Constitution is clear and categorical that it is fundamental right of every child to get education free from fear of security and safety.
The issue of safety of school going children had turned so grave that the Supreme Court had to intervene and issue guidelines in 2013 which include: yellow painted buses; display of 'On school duty' on the front and back of the bus; carrying children to the permitted seating capacity of the vehicle if they're above 12 years old and 1 ½ times more if below 12 years; first aid box; drivers with minimum of five years driving experience and a GPS.
However, surveys undertaken by many concerned social organisations across the country reveal a gory situation even as the SC guidelines are openly flouted.
While the Supreme court guidelines are clear for school owned buses, what about the private transporters ferrying children? School buses do not go to every remote corner in a city and do not offer the service if children live too close-by. It then falls on the parents to look for other means of transport. The choice is private buses, auto-rickshaws, their own cars or two wheelers as the sole alternate mode of transport to ferry children.
“We regularly impress upon parents not to hire private vans and use only school buses but they say buses don't come to doorsteps. These days no one wants to spend a little time walking to the convergence point? We become helpless,” a Principal of a leading public school in central Delhi confided in me.
Clearly, there is an utter lack of awareness to educate parents on the road and travel safety of their children. Ironically, the police, the media, the NGOs and other agencies concerned with the welfare of school children figure in discussions with aplomb but only when some major accident happens. Later, all is forgotten till the next mishap.
What prevents the traffic police and the town planners to make 'Rainbow Corridors' on the roads leading to schools for at least 2 hours in the morning and afternoon? Don't the very policemen strictly enforce Green Corridors for ambulances ferrying life saving organs for transplant? Why can't the same policemen do something similar for our little ones?
Rest assured, once 'Rainbow Corridors' are in force, the commuters in general are sure to co-operate in the cause of their children's safety.
Every child's eyes glimmer with hope. Afterall, we send our kids to school to get enlightened to face life as responsible human beings and not fall prey to human callousness. Every child's walk is a step towards the future. Its time to do; not to debate! When will we resolve that every child must come back home smilingly.