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Toilets, yes; but usable? Hardly

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Meera Srinivasan

Poor sanitation a ’key reason’ for girls dropping out

The Centre has so far allocated Rs.236.33 crore for TSC to Tamil Nadu

CHENNAI: The pathetic state of toilets in many schools was taken note of in a report submitted by the working group on development of children for the 11th five year plan. The report said one of the main reasons for girls dropping out of school was the lack of proper toilet and sanitary facilities.

The situation is no different in Chennai with the toilets in several schools being unusable, because of inadequate water supply and poor maintenance. Many students, particularly girls, complain of health problems as they are unable to use the toilet.

Gayathri Selvaraj, a class ten student of a government-aided school in T.Nagar, said, “We don’t use the toilet in our school as there is no water. We have no choice but to wait till we get back home in the evening.” Many of her classmates suffered from infections, she said.

Raja. B., a student of a Corporation school in Nungambakkam said the stench in his school bathroom was unbearable.

The situation is no better in anganwadis.

A survey conducted by the Social Work department of Loyola College covering 16 Corporation primary schools in the city two years ago found that 38 per cent of the schools did not have separate toilets for boys and girls. In 56 per cent of the schools, toilets were damaged. Things seem to have changed little in the last two years.

Convenor of Forum for Crèche and Childcare Services in Tamil Nadu (TN-FORCES) K. Shanmugavelayutham said: “Insufficient and irregular water supply, and poor maintenance render them [toilets] useless. This leads to over-use of a few toilets by many children, resulting in health problems.”

Plight of special

children

Thousands of special children have been admitted to government, government-aided and Corporation schools in the city under the Integrated Education for Disabled (IED) component of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (Education for All Movement). Special educators said the toilets in these schools and in most private schools were hardly disabled-friendly.

All India Confederation of Organisations for Persons with Mental Disability secretary S. Namburajan said, “Students with multiple disabilities or children with, say, cerebral palsy will definitely need a western toilet specially designed for persons with disabilities. How many government or Corporation schools have such facilities?”

UNICEF’s role

The poor conditions and maintenance of toilets in schools notwithstanding, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), in an attempt to spread awareness about the importance of clean toilet habits, is involved in organising workshops as part of the School Sanitation and Hygiene Education (SSHE) programme. It is intended to support the State Government implement the Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) of the Centre.

Initially, Kancheepuram, Tirunelveli, Dharmapuri and Krishnagiri were identified as focus districts where officials and teachers were trained. It was later extended to a few other districts, including tsunami-affected areas. It is expected to be extended to city schools this year.

UNICEF’s project officer A. Devaraj said they offered similar training programmes to Corporation schools in 2003-04. Issues such as separate toilets for girls and boys and child and girl students-friendly toilets were addressed.

“We found that awareness about hygienic practices was very poor. These days, girls attain puberty early. Students of class six upward need to be sensitised about hygiene during menstruation.” UNICEF has therefore been insisting that sufficient water be made available for girls. “We also train students in aspects like safe disposal of sanitary napkins,” he said.

Funds allotted

The Centre through its Ministry of Rural Development has so far allocated Rs.236.33 crore for the TSC to Tamil Nadu. “This includes funds for schools as well,” Joint Director (TSC) S.Jayakumar said. These funds are directed to the School Education department and to the Corporation, to be used for schools under their purview.

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