Many of us are lucky that our children go to reputable institutions with countless facilities. However, unfortunately, there are many more that are not as privileged in our country. While many are deprived of any education whatsoever, there are countless others who have to bear severe hardships to get even the most basic (and often, sub-par quality) education.
Recently, I received these pictures on WhatsApp and my heart cried looking at how the van driver, the school and above all, the parents, could allow this insanity and let children ride like this to school every day! I doubt they realise that even the slightest jerk could cause severe neck injury or back sprain to say the least.
But perhaps (and this is more likely), they are forced to shut their eyes in the face of such hazards since they don’t have any other option but to send their children like this so that they receive some level of basic education with the limited resources they have.
These are just two pictures but most of us, whether we like it or not, see many such incidents every day on the roads as we drive or are driven comfortably in our air-conditioned vehicles. While children hang precariously from these pick-ups and vans, the only thing which seems important to our leaders is building metros, planting (environment damaging) trees and slinging mud on each other.
In 2015, due to the increased number of road accidents, guidelines were enthusiastically put up for school transportation service providers by the Karachi Traffic Police. Some of the regulations were as follows:
- School buses will not have a cylinder of any type (CNG and LEG) and will only run on petrol or diesel.
- It is illegal for a Suzuki pick-up to operate as a school bus.
- It is necessary for an attendant to be present in the school bus to ensure that children enter and exit the bus without incident.
- It is illegal for the school bus to go to a petrol station with children on board.
- Overloading the bus will not be allowed.
- Playing music and smoking by the driver and attendant in the school bus will not be allowed.
- Buses will be blue in colour and given special protocol by traffic police.
Apart from these it was expected that the guidelines in the School Bus Safety Bill passed in May 2014 will also be adhered to, which included:
- Every school bus must have at least two doors.
- Every school bus should be inspected annually by the Regional Motor Vehicle Inspector. Once the vehicle passes the inspection, the owner will receive a fitness/maintenance certificate that should be displayed in the vehicle to indicate that its safety requirements have been updated.
- There must be at least one functioning fire extinguisher present in the school bus at all times.
It is now 2018 and yet, in spite of these bills and regulations, it is an everyday sight to see students hanging off the back of a Suzuki pick-up with their heavy bags weighing them down even more. As with other things, it didn’t take very long for us to disregard and bury these guidelines in the books of court.
We hear of accidents relating to school transport in various parts of the country on social media and the news and every time this happens, a wave of intolerance, hype and vigilance overcomes the nation but it soon vanishes away. Federal, provincial and local laws are made as an aftermath but never enforced. Authorities responsible for scrutinizing and implementing are either not taken seriously or they sell their integrity for a mere Rs 100.
According to the guidelines given by the Karachi Traffic Police, the responsibility to ensure that these regulations are implemented lies with the schools’ administration; schools found to be in violation of these rules will face legal action.Whether your child goes to school in such perilous means of transport or he/she commutes to and from school in a comfortable, chauffeur-driven vehicle, the fact is that the safety of ALL our children is our civic and ethical responsibility.
As teachers, parents and even mere observers, let’s exercise our civic right and hold these schools responsible. Take down the number plate of any school ‘bus’ that does not meet the guidelines given above, complain to the traffic police; track down the vehicle to the school it is affiliated with and demand necessary action.
The safety of EVERY child is in OUR hands – whether he/she comes from an affluent background or a less privileged one. Let’s do our duty and come forward NOW!