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International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression: Mandatory Child Counsellors in Every School

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Every year, June 4th is observed as the International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression. The day is a grim reminder of innumerable children across the world who suffer due to various forms of violence and aggression. The United Nations established the day in 1982 to respond to the atrocities committed against Palestinian and Lebanese children during the Israel-Lebanon conflict.
Every day, children living in wars across the globe face unspeakable horrors. They are not safe while doing normal life things like sleeping in their homes or playing outside, learning in school or seeking medical care at hospitals. From killing and maiming, abduction and sexual violence, to attacks on education and health facilities, and the denial of the humanitarian assistance that they desperately need, children are subjected to undeserving fate at the behest of warring parties at a staggering scale.
The UN Secretary-General Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict highlights that in 2022 alone:
– Over 8,630 children were killed or maimed, a 5% increase compared to 2021. The use of explosive ordnance, including explosive remnants of war, improvised explosive devices, and landmines, was responsible for over 25% of the killing and maiming of children.
– 7,622 children were recruited or used in conflicts, with 85% of these being boys. Factors such as sex, age, disability, ethnicity, religion, geopolitical location, and economic status primarily determine a child’s risk of recruitment and the violations they experience.
– 3,985 children were abducted, with the highest numbers occurring in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, Burkina Faso, Myanmar, and Mozambique.
– 1,166 children were victims of sexual violence, with 99% of cases perpetrated against girls, who are disproportionately affected by such violence.
– 3,931 incidents of denial of humanitarian access were reported, with the most affected areas being Israel and the State of Palestine, Yemen, Afghanistan, Mali, and Burkina Faso.
– 1,846 incidents of attacks on schools and hospitals were verified, showing a sharp increase of over 110%, with a significant rise in the use of schools and hospitals for military purposes.
These alarming statistics reveal the severe impact of conflict on children, emphasising the urgent need to protect and support them. One essential way to provide this support is through the presence of child counselors in schools. Child counselors play a crucial role in helping children cope with trauma, stress, and emotional difficulties. They provide a safe space for children to express their feelings and thoughts, helping them to navigate through complex emotions and experiences. This support is not only vital for children in conflict zones but also for those facing everyday challenges. However, the reality in Indian schools reveals a significant gap between this necessity and its implementation.

The Role of Child Counsellors

Child counselors are trained professionals who specialise in understanding and addressing the emotional, psychological, and social needs of children. They provide a safe space for children to express their feelings and thoughts, helping them to navigate through complex emotions and experiences. The benefits of having child counselors in schools are manifold:
1. Emotional Support: Counselors offer emotional support to children who may be dealing with personal issues, family problems, or bullying. This support is crucial for their mental well-being.
2. Behavioral Guidance: They help children develop healthy coping mechanisms and positive behavior patterns, which can lead to better academic and social outcomes.
3. Early Intervention: Counselors can identify signs of mental health issues early on and provide timely intervention, preventing more serious problems from developing.
4. Safe Environment: They contribute to creating a safe and nurturing school environment where children feel valued and understood.

The Reality in Indian Schools

The Central Board of Secondary Education has issued a guideline making it mandatory to have counsellors in schools. Despite this, only three per cent of private schools in the country have counselling services, as per a report by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM). The situation in the government schools is far worse.
Many Indian schools, especially in rural areas, operate with limited resources. They struggle to provide basic infrastructure, let alone specialised services like counseling. The focus often remains on academic achievement, with little attention given to mental health and emotional well-being.
Moreover, there is a significant shortage of trained child counsellors in India. The demand far exceeds the supply, and many schools cannot afford to hire full-time counselors. In some cases, teachers or staff members with little to no training in counseling are asked to fill this role, which can be ineffective and potentially harmful.
Mental health issues and counseling still carry a stigma in many parts of India. Parents and even educators may be reluctant to seek help for children, fearing social ostracism or labeling. This cultural barrier prevents many children from accessing the support they need.

Steps Towards Improvement

To bridge the gap between the need for child counselors and the current reality in Indian schools, several steps can be taken:
1. Government Initiatives: The government must prioritise mental health in education policies and allocate funds specifically for counselling services. Programs like the National Mental Health Programme can be expanded to include a focus on school counselling.
2. Training and Recruitment: There should be increased efforts to train and recruit more child counsellors. Offering incentives and scholarships for students pursuing careers in child psychology and counselling can help address the shortage of professionals.
3. Awareness Campaigns: Public awareness campaigns can help reduce the stigma associated with mental health. Educating parents, teachers, and students about the importance of mental well-being and the role of counselors can create a more supportive environment.
4. Collaboration with NGOs: Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) can play a crucial role in filling the gaps. Collaborations between schools and NGOs can provide access to counseling services, especially in under-resourced areas.
5. Integration into Curriculum: Mental health education should be integrated into the school curriculum. Teaching children about emotional intelligence, resilience, and coping strategies can empower them to seek help when needed.

Conclusion

The International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression reminds us of our collective responsibility to protect and support the children in our communities. Child counselors in schools are a vital component of this support system, providing essential services that can significantly impact a child’s development and well-being. While the current reality in Indian schools falls short of this ideal, concerted efforts from the government, educators, and society at large can pave the way for a brighter, healthier future for our children. By prioritising mental health and ensuring the presence of child counselors in every school, we can create a more nurturing and supportive environment for all children to thrive.