Friday, July 19, 2013

What will it take for us to wake from our slumber?

When schoolchildren died in a road traffic accident, the nation was in shock. It is not every day that 15 children die in such a grisly manner. It says something about our callous and indifferent approach to road safety that we will mourn, nationally, for the families whose children were taken too soon but we will not do anything to change our behaviour or take steps to improve the state of road safety in Kenya.

Any person with two eyes who drives in Nairobi will attest to the fact that parents have also taken a reckless approach to the safety of their children as they are ferried to and from school. Even the so-called middle-class, high end schools do not provide for the safety of the children in their charge. There are few schools in the capital whose buses are properly designed for the safety of their charges, with safety equipment designed for children or bus crews trained to look out for their welfare while on the road.

The majority of school transport vehicles, whether fourteen-seat vans or full-scale buses, are designed for adults. Many of them, too, are retired Public Service Vehicles whose life on the road have surely passed their Sell By date. Very few of them could legitimately be allowed on the road without hefty bribes exchanging hands between their operators and those who are charged with enforcing the provisions of the Traffic Act. It is not a stretch of the imagination to believe that the same roguish behaviour demonstrated by the operators of matatus is demonstrated by the operators of school buses.

The knee-jerk reaction of the National Police Service is warranted, though it is akin to bolting the gate long after the horses have stampeded for the horizon. It is not enough. Not even the Presidential decree that the seriously wounded victims of the Kisii school-bus crash be airlifted to Nairobi for specialised treatment is sufficient. It is trite wisdom that harsher penalties will  not stem the tide of blood that is flooding our roads. What is required is the proper and full enforcement of the laws that we have on our books.

For a nation that has such detailed laws on almost everything under the sun, including mind-bogglingly complex regulations to implement them, it is strange that there doe not seem to be a set of laws or regulations on the proper design of school buses or the proper procedure to be followed while transporting schoolchildren. How we have managed to get by as the numbers of children on school buses has risen beggars belief. While the adults take precautions as they are ferried to and from their places of work, they do not seem to spare a thought as to how their children's welfare is catered for by the schools that are in charge.

Is it not time that we stepped outside the cocoons of our daily grind and took a more hands-on approach to the safety of our children? It is not enough to pay school fees or activity fees or any other kind of levy that schools filch from us. We must become more involved in the safety of our children when they are out of our sights. The Parents'-Teachers' Associations that we treat with such disdain must become our first port of call when it comes to the safety of our children. We must become more involved in the management of the institutions that are in charge of the welfare of our children when we are busy living our lives. We must hold the proprietors of the schools our children attend to account for the safety of our children. We must ensure that the facilities set aside for the welfare of our children meet the minimum standards required to assure their safety. If we don't, more parents are going to be confronted with the spectre of their children lying in mangled wrecks in pools of their own blood.

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