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‘Desh ke mentor’: NCPCR seeks to halt initiative, AAP hits back

Pointing to safety “loopholes” in the Delhi government’s ‘Desh ke Mentor’ programme, the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has recommended that it be suspended until these are “overhauled”. In response to this, AAP MLA Atishi said putting hindrances in the implementation of a “path-breaking scheme like ‘Desh ke Mentor’ shows the shallowness of the BJP and its government machinery”.

Launched in October 2020, the programme is aimed at providing voluntary mentors to students in classes IX to XII. People between the ages of 18 and 35 can sign up to become mentors through an app created by a team at Delhi Technological University and will be connected to students based on mutual interests.

The mentorship entails regular phone calls for a minimum period of two months, which can be carried on for four more months optionally. As per the programme’s website, 20,898 people have registered as mentors so far.

The NCPCR stated that it received a representation from one Lalit Wadher in November last year, who alleged that the programme brings together children and “unknown persons”, and exposes the former to danger.

Following this, the child rights body sought a response from the Delhi government on the process for selecting mentors, whether there is any step to verify if a mentor has been charged for crimes against children, what steps are in place to ensure that children are safe while interacting with the mentor, and whether they are trained or sensitised about child rights.

In his response, Director of Education Himanshu Gupta emphasised that mentees are only assigned mentors of the same gender and that interactions are only over the phone and there are no in-person interactions between them. He also stated that mentors go through a ‘psychometric test’ on the app before they are accepted into the programme and that candidates have to declare on the app that they have never been charged for or involved in any activities violating rights of children.

He further said that parents of mentees have filled consent forms; a teacher from every school has been assigned as a ‘nodal teacher for the programme’; mentors go through an orientation on the app and receive an initiation email which contains information on the DCPCR guidelines and remedial measures for child rights protection.

On the app, it is optional for candidates to upload identity proof while registering. The ‘psychometric test’ involves candidates having to rate how much they agree or disagree to statements such as ‘I am willing to put a great deal of effort to excel in my professional life’, ‘Men and women should be treated equally in our society’, and ‘I think lying is justified when I can benefit by doing so’.

On Tuesday, NCPCR chairperson Priyank Kanoongo wrote to the education department stating that the response “appears to be ineffectual in completely dousing the safety issues” and recommended that the programme be suspended immediately “till the time all loopholes pertaining to the safety of children are overhauled”.

It stated that “it is imperative to place here that abuse or assault, sexual or otherwise, is not gender-biased” and “same gender does not necessarily assure the safety of any child in any terms”, and that “child-related crime can be initiated through phone calls as well”, pointing towards “child trafficking through phone calls”. The letter also questioned the lack of police verification and whether the psychometric test is a “full (sic) proof assessment of a person in terms of potential threat to any child”.

Atishi, who is also the chairperson, Standing Committee on Education (Delhi Vidhan Sabha), said: “… Educated youth from good colleges, successful entrepreneurs, professionals come together to mentor underprivileged students. Does the BJP not want these students to merely get guidance? The BJP’s biggest fear is to see the poor get empowered and educated, that’s why they’re placing roadblocks in their progress.”

A government official also said: “We are currently seeking legal opinion on how binding this recommendation is. We have shared the details of the process with them; we think there are adequate safeguards, given the nature of the limited interaction and the fact that the children involved here are slightly older.”



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