Monitoring of children

Schoolchildren under watch in Delhi

Print edition : August 16, 2019

Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia during the inauguration of CCTV installation in the Government School at Lajpat Nagar in New Delhi on July 7. Photo: R.V. MOORTHY

The AAP government’s project to install CCTV cameras in Delhi schools for live monitoring of schoolchildren to protect them from crime attracts diverse reactions.

ON July 6, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal announced his government’s plan to install CCTV cameras in all government schools. Social media sites immediately exploded into a debate on issues such as violation of privacy, the psychological implications that such monitoring of children may have on them and the threat of online exploitation of footage showing children. The ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) defended the move by saying it was necessary to ensure the protection of schoolchildren from heinous incidents, such as the rape of a five-year-old girl in a public school in the Gandhinagar area of Delhi in September 2017.

Launching the project at Shaheed Hemu Kalani Sarvodaya Bal Vidyalaya in the National Capital Region, Kejriwal said 200 schools would be covered by the end of July and more than 1,000 by end of November. Under the project, 1.2 lakh CCTV cameras will be installed across 1,041 government schools in a phased manner. On the completion of the project, every government school in Delhi will have 150 to 200 cameras on its campus, including inside classrooms. Parents can download a DGS Live app from Playstore. The school’s control room will send out a message to them and guide them to watch live feeds of their wards after online verification. The government has asked 1,000-odd schools to adhere to its directive on CCTV installation. More than 2,000 cameras will be installed in the first batch. Tenders for the second batch are in progress.

Despite the raging debate among baffled parents and pupils, who are divided on the issue of live monitoring at school, the AAP government has applauded itself for the move. “It is a historic milestone in school education in the country and the world as live feed from classrooms will be provided to parents on their mobile phones through an app,” Kejriwal said at the time of the launch. He dismissed concerns that the move would amount to intrusion on privacy. Kejriwal argued that children went to school “for education, to learn discipline and become good citizens” and that there would be no breach of privacy since they do not go to school “for anything private”. He claimed that the step was in the right direction and was taken to make the government accountable to people.

In May, Amber Tickoo, a law student at the National Law University in Delhi filed a petition in the Supreme Court arguing that the government’s directive to install CCTVs in classrooms constituted a breach of schoolchildren’s fundamental right to privacy. The petition stated: “…installation of CCTV cameras and providing live feed of the same to anyone with a user ID and password jeopardises the safety and security of young girls as also the female teachers and shall directly give rise to the incidents of stalking and voyeurism. Also, there are no measures taken for protection of the data that is required to be stored in the aforesaid CCTV recordings.” But on July 12, the bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose declined to stay the Delhi government’s initiative.

The concerns over privacy remain. Several social activists and groups working for children’s rights and welfare pointed out that a child was less likely to behave confidently and freely if monitored as every advertent or inadvertent mistake committed by the pupil would be noticed and would invite admonishment from teachers and parents. This is also likely to lead to duplication of reproach for the same mistake. In one’s formative years, what one needs in order to evolve into a disciplined and self-assured adult is conversation and counselling and healthy pointing out of mistakes, encouragement to correct them and some definite amount of freedom coupled with fostering of self-restraint. Round-the-clock scrutiny is likely to act as a restraining force that would over time breed deep-rooted inhibition and diffidence.

Breach of privacy

Mitra Ranjan, an activist with the Right to Education forum, said despite Kejriwal ruling out any breach of privacy, there is one. “I do not concur with the CM’s statement; of course privacy would be encroached. You cannot put children under surveillance. It is natural for a child to do mischief; in fact there is no child who doesn’t do mischief. You need corrective measures to deal with that. Live monitoring of a child is not the solution, it would be a kind of psychological duress on him/her to not be his/her natural self and would impact her/him adversely,” Ranjan said.

He also countered the argument that such monitoring would prevent teachers from neglecting their duty. “That would be a dictatorial way of ensuring efficiency. What you need is proper training of teachers, and support systems to develop greater teacher-parent-student synergy. At the forum we advocate the latter method.”

Frontline tried to contact Atishi Marlena, AAP leader and educator who served as adviser to Education Minister Manish Sisodia on matters relating to education, but she was not available for comment. A conversation with some domestic workers at Vasant Kunj’s Sector B and neighbouring areas, whose children are enrolled in government schools, revealed that opinion about the government’s initiative was divided. While some were not sure how such an initiative would help improve the overall quality of education, others supported the move out of sheer faith in the AAP government in general and Kejriwal in particular.

One of the arguments put forth by the AAP government for the CCTV installation drive is that it will ascertain the physical safety of the children. In the recent past, Delhi and other cities in India have witnessed crimes on campus. A boy was murdered in a private school in Gurugram in September 2017; a four-year-old girl was subjected to sexual assault by her physical education teachers at a South Kolkata school in December 2017; in March, a 12-year-old boy was murdered by his seniors at a boarding school in Dehradun. Critics argue that the government’s latest initiative is inadequate to ensure safety of children since many of them are from disadvantaged backgrounds and are vulnerable to abuses on the street. Unless efforts are made to beef up the security apparatus in Delhi and reduce the rising crime graph, there will be little positive outcome from the CCTV installation. “If safety is the trigger, we really need to ensure that from end to end, that is to say from their homes to schools and back to their homes. It has to be at all dark spots that these children take to reach school and return home every day,” Ranjan pointed out. On-campus crimes are often committed by teachers or young adolescents who are co-learners of the victims in question. The need of the hour is to sensitise adults and adolescents to value and uphold the esteem and safety of all.

Some activists contended that live monitoring of schoolchildren ran the risk of the footage being misused by online predators. Sisodia, however, said that the project was planned carefully and that well-thought-out standing operating procedures had been followed. He clarified that the feed of classrooms would be made available to parents for a limited period without audio. In an era when online theft of data and their illegal transfer and storage are a reality, it is not certain if safety nets have been put in place.