The ‘last child’ syndrome has witnessed many a psychologist publish tomes on being the youngest born in a family and its social ramifications during the growth cycle.
However, these days the term takes on a new meaning for parents who fear the safety of their child just because s/he happens to be the last one to step off the school bus on the route home.
Rape is an ugly word. It gets uglier when the word child is latched on to this heinous crime, which wields enough power to strike fear in the hearts of parents.
The rape of the four-year-old girl by a bus driver and two attendants that has shaken up the foundations of the schooling system in Dubai has brought to light yet another safety concern that parents face when placing their child on a bus in the morning, hoping to be secure in the knowledge that their precious bundle would be handed back to them safely at end of school day.
“My five-year-old daughter Tanya used to be the first child to be picked up at 6.15am, and the last one to be dropped off, around 3.20pm every day,” said Jeeta Vohra, a Bur Dubai resident whose child studies in GEMS Wellington International School and travels via the same transport service operators that the young four-year-old victim shuttled to school in every day.
She continued: “I used to spend sleepless nights fearing something could easily happen on the long ride home, when Tanya was alone on the bus with a driver and an attendant who, despite the extensive background checks by the police, were still strangers to us.”
Vohra recalled many a times where she questioned her daughter if everything on the bus route was nothing out of the ordinary, and no one had touched her child in an inappropriate manner.
Finally, after several requests to have the bus route changed, Vohra’s family acted on the only remaining solution: shift residence to ensure Tanya was always in company when picked up and dropped off.
“You may call it paranoia, but as a parent, would you really wait for the unthinkable to happen before you take decisive action?” she asked.
Vohra isn’t alone in her concerns. Sharjah resident Arpita Bhattacharya has a five-year-old daughter studying in Kindergarten Starters and shares the paranoia any parent faces when having their child being the last one dropped off.
“You don’t really think about the safety issue, not until something as terrible as the child rape occurs in your own backyard,” said Bhattacharya. “My daughter travels from Garhoud to Sharjah every day and being the last child dropped off, she has to pass through a lonely stretch of a road that has never made me very comfortable.
“Now it simply gives me sleepless nights because that stretch lasts 15 minutes and anything can happen during that time.”
Ask her if she has considered approaching the school for a change in route, but Bhattacharya says that even if such an action would give her peace of mind, another parent would suffer a similar fate because, after all, someone has to be the last child stepping off the bus.
Moving house, she says, offers up no resolution at all.
“We need a long-term solution and that can only happen with a female attendant on board; and not just a domestic help but a senior person who is employed by the school, knows the parents and wields authority,” she stated.
Schools such as those associated with the Taaleem group, including Greenfield Community and American Academy for Girls, does exactly that.
Tom Matthews, Projects Manager with Taaleem said: “All our bus attendants are female and are employed across our nine schools as teaching assistants. They know the child, have the capabilities to assess an emergency situation and are trained to keep a child’s welfare as their number one priority.”