Privacy of children at risk


How does privacy affect the pre-primary education sector and what are the crucial aspects that we need to understand that affect the children directly? Tulip Sinha gives us a low down on this new threat that is looming large in the age of technology and high penetration of social media.

Humans are a hyper-connected global community now. Even at places where there is an absence or dearth of basic amenities, technology and the internet have made inroads. So, it does not come as surprise that even in the remotest geographical area or in an uneducated group of people or within a traditional society, the internet, gadgets and social media are an integral part of their lives, among all age groups.

With the penetration of technology and internet comes the risk of intrusion into private space and of privacy violation. The concept of privacy may be different for people but in the eyes of law, ‘privacy’ is well defined and the law of the land ensures that privacy of an individual is guaranteed through constitutional provisions.

The right to privacy extends to children also as legal citizens of the country. The schools in the country are governed by regulatory mechanisms but entities facilitating pre-primary education such as playschools, crèche and school nurseries are largely unregulated. In the absence of law regulating such entities and the fact that millions such playschools and crèche have mushroomed in cities, even in single rooms spaces projects the seriousness of the issue.
The privacy of children attending playschools, nurseries and those going to crèche is at risk. As such entities are largely unregulated they possess a higher chance of other irregularities that crop up – absence of verification of teaching and administrative staff, negligence towards structural stability and propriety of the building or structure housing the entity, transportation irregularities, etc. For private and government schools, such checks are done by the law, regulations and government guidelines — not applicable to pre-primary education sector.

When protectors turn violators

There have been numerous instances across the world where the privacy of a child is violated by the people who are in position to protect the child. In playschools, crèche and nurseries, instances are aplenty where privacy of a child is violated and unfortunately, owing to poor understanding of the concept and lack of knowledge of the availability of legal remedies, the matter is brushed aside. When privacy violations cross certain limits, the trauma affects the child’s life and often stays for the rest of his/her life.

In such school nurseries, crèche and playschools, it is often the staff that perpetrates such violations owing to access to children, to resources and ‘authority’ to handle and tackle children.

With the flood of cheap smartphones today, almost everyone, at least every adult now has a smartphone that he/she actively uses. Camera phones, CCTV cameras and cameras in general are used by perpetrators to violate privacy of children in their space of trust.

Despite the increase in crimes against children and specific guidelines for installation of CCTV cameras in the school premises and in classrooms, many schools are lagging behind. In the absence of any regulation for pre-primary schools, there is neither any enforcement not compliance pressure on playschools, etc. to install CCTV cameras for the safety of the children.

This greatly increases the risk of perpetrators clicking pictures or making videos of innocent children in classrooms, even toilets. There have been several instances in playschools around the country, and the world, where the staff or cleaner, even teachers have violated privacy of unassuming children by clicking videos and pictures.

In fact, there have been several cases where the perpetrators have misused CCTV footage to their advantage by grabbing images and videos of children from the CCTV footage, owing to lack of security and proper measures deciding who gets access to such footage.

Police clearance and verification of the employees of schools are often not done as laid down by law. So, expecting unregulated pre-primary nurseries, tuition classes and crèches to go through the time-consuming process of getting police verification done of their staff and teachers is foolhardy.

Risk while commuting

Transportation is another area where children are at risk. Here, the trustworthiness of the driver, cleaner and attendant comes into play as children are completely dependent on them while commuting to and fro from home to school. Especially when the commute is done through private vans, auto rickshaws, etc. the chances of privacy violations and serious offences are even more as they are often not registered or verified by the relevant authorities.

Smartphones and technology advancements have given a big boost to authorities in nabbing such crimes. However, the same have even empowered and emboldened paedophiles and perverts who use technology for their pleasure.

The threats posed by such acts are far too many than can ever be quantified. When a pervert shoots a video of a child, he often sends the same to many other people. Anything that goes in cyber space once stays there forever. So, there is a high chance of such material resurfacing after years. The trauma that the child as well as the family suffers due to such acts is inexplicable.

In 2018, a nursery student was raped in Greater Noida. The incident shook the parents and the administration so much that it led to an overhaul in security measures on the premises. In another case, a four-year-old nursery student was raped by the driver of the school bus in Pinjore. The driver raped the girl after dropping off all the other kids.

Private tuitions too pose threat

Another important area where privacy of children and their safety is at risk is private tuitions. The rat race to get children admitted to a ‘good and prestigious’ school has allowed a whole new supplementary education system in terms of private tuitions.

A toddler who is only beginning to understand the basics of formal education, is often put through tuitions by over-ambitious parents who want to see their children in renowned schools when they start their primary education. The tutors and such tuitions are completely outside the purview of the law and regulations and pose grave risks to children.

To understand privacy, one needs to understand the definition of privacy within the socio-cultural fabric of the country. The right to privacy is encompassed under the right to life and personal liberty i.e. Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. In India, privacy was not considered a fundamental right earlier.

In a landmark judgment in 2017, the Supreme Court of India declared that ‘The right to privacy is protected as an intrinsic part of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 and as a part of the freedoms guaranteed by Part III of the Constitution’, thereby protecting the country’s 1.3 billion people. With this milestone ruling, India joined the United States, Canada, South Africa, the European Union and the United Kingdom in recognising this right.

So, every individual, including every child has a right to privacy and it is time now that the government brings in a law to regulate entities running pre-primary education i.e. playschools, crèche and school nurseries.

Tulip Sinha

Tulip Sinha is a Law Student interning with Maverick – A DraftCraft International initiative to further reach, accountability and the law in Pre-Primary, Primary, Intermediary and Secondary Education.