For being more responsible

13 July 2009

R. Ayyappan:
Zero Tolerance on Child Abuse’ is in danger of being seen as a bogus slogan of the Tourism Department.

The slogan, along with a set of anti-child abuse posters based on it, was said to be the first step towards declaring Kovalam a Child Sex Abuse (CSA) non-tolerant zone. Leave alone ensuring a secure place for children, the Department had failed, was not even eager, to convince the hotels and resorts in the area to feature the anti-child abuse posters inside their properties.

The Department, hopefully, is trying to make amends. There are plans to hand over the coordination of anti-child abuse programmes to the Kovalam Responsible Tourism (RT) Cell. ``A preliminary discussion had taken place to formally hand over the responsibilities to the RT Cell. The plan is to make the RT Cell supervise and coordinate all anti-child abuse activities taking place in Kovalam,’’ an RT Cell official said.

A larger meeting, attended by senior officials of various departments and NGOs, will be convened by the Tourism Director next week.

The RT Cell is involved in the creation of a responsible tourism framework for the beach destination in three spheres, namely economic, social and environment. Though child abuse is a social issue, it is strangely not included within the ambit of the RT Cell.

Currently, the anti-abuse campaigns are done through a junior-level officer of the Tourism Department posted at Kovalam. Reason why the poster campaign fell flat. It was with much fanfare that the Department, during the middle of April, had handed over the ‘Kovalam Vigil’ campaign materials to the Kerala Hotel and Restaurants Association (KHRA). A month later, when Expresso visited the area, the shops and restaurants along the Eve’s Beach had not even heard of such posters.

"It would be nice to coordinate our activities with the Tourism Department,’’ said Mahila Samakhya state project director Seema Bhaskar.

Mahila Samakhya is currently organising a series of anti-child abuse programmes along the coastal areas of the district. ``Things will work more smoothly if a mechanism is put in place to share information with the Tourism Department, especially the monitoring cells that the Department has proposed,’’ Seema said.

Saroop Roy of Equations, a leading Tourism NGO, is however wary of the Department’s move. "This should not be an excuse for the Department to shift its responsibility to the RT Cell, wash its hands off the ‘zero tolerance’ campaign,’’ Saroop said.

The RT Cell has its limitations, according to him. ``The Cell can coordinate the activities on the ground. But when it comes to the larger and complex inter-departmental management, the Tourism Department alone can be effective,’’ Saroop said.

Moreover, the RT Cell is run by a private firm. ``How can the CEO of a private firm convene a meeting of various department officials like police and social welfare? Only the Tourism Secretary or the Tourism Director can or should do that,’’ he said.

Presently, there are a number of anti-child abuse programmes being carried out in the area, the most notable being the ones organised by the Mahila Samakhya.

"All these are not taking place under the ‘zero tolerance on child abuse’ campaign. They will remain scattered if there is no one to bring them under a single campaign,’’ Saroop said.

Seema said that the Tourism Department should share the ‘Kovalam Vigil’ posters with others. "We can use these posters for our workshops and other awareness programmes. It is not just cost-effective, we can avoid duplication as well,’’ she said.

The ‘Kovalam Vigil’ campaign appeals to the conscience of both the tourist and the local. ‘Be a Guardian Angel,’ the campaign materials said.

The message is simple, direct and practical. ‘Keep an eye open for the children of Kovalam, and if you have the heart, act. If you suspect that a child is being abused, please call Childline 1098 night and day or the police on 100,’ the posters and stickers said.