New Delhi: The National Commission for Protection for Child Rights (NCPCR) has asked the Delhi government to put on hold its entrepreneurship programme for students, ‘Desh Ke Mentor’, until loopholes in safety measures are fixed, ThePrint has learnt.
Under the programme, students from Delhi government schools pitch a start-up idea and the ones selected are then mentored by experts from various fields of business. The scheme, aimed at giving an early start to students’ entrepreneurial journey, was launched in October 2021.
The NCPCR move has come in response to a complaint over the safety of children participating in the programme.
On Tuesday, NCPCR chairperson Priyank Kanoongo wrote to the principal secretary of Delhi’s education department, recommending that the government should “immediately suspend the concerned scheme/initiative till the time when all the loopholes pertaining to the safety of children are overhauled (sic)”.
The letter came after the NCPCR wasn’t satisfied by the Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP government’s response to an earlier communication from it.
“The (government) letter is silent on the question of police verification and hence it seems that no police verification is being done of the mentors to ensure safety of the children,” Kanoongo told ThePrint.
The Delhi government should keep the programme on hold until the loopholes are fixed, he added.
ThePrint reached a Delhi government spokesperson for a comment through text messages but there was no response until the time this report was published. It will be updated when a reply is received.
What NCPCR and govt said in letters
According to the documents accessed by ThePrint, the NCPCR first wrote to the Delhi government on 7 December, seeking an explanation on the criteria for selection of mentors and if they undergo police verification.
The panel also sought details on whether the government took steps to ensure safety of children in front of strangers (mentors) and if they are sensitised about child rights, especially the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.
The Delhi government’s education director Himanshu Gupta filed a detailed reply on 3 January, stating the criteria for selection of mentors.
Gupta informed NCPCR that mentors of the same gender are assigned to a mentee in order to ensure their safety.
He also said that a mentor is assigned through the ‘Desh ke Mentor’ app, which ensures that all checks and balances are in place and there is no in-person interaction between the mentor and the mentee, with most of the communication taking place over phone or emails.
“Mentors go through a psychometric test before they are accepted into the programme. An undertaking has also been included in ‘Desh Ke Mentor’ app where candidates have to declare and undertake that they have never been charged for (or involved in) any activities relating to the violation of the rights of children,” said Gupta’s reply.
“Moreover, parents of mentees enrolled have filled in their consent form (through the respective schools) allowing their child to join the ‘Desh Ke Mentor’ programme and a school teacher for every school has been designated as nodal officer for this programme. This ensures that the mentee/child (currently grade 10 to 12, of age around 15 to 17 years) has support of two responsible adults throughout the mentorship journey,” he added.
(Edited by Amit Upadhyaya)