Many children of Chennai, capital of the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu, girls especially, are avoiding toilets while at school as the school toilets are dirty and they stink. But the students, girls especially, could be running some health problems in the process.
The condition of toilets even in posh schools leaves a lot to be desired.
Parents say that even though they raised the issue with the managements on several occasions, nothing much has happened.
"Many parents wrote letters and dropped their suggestion in the box kept at the school. But nothing has improved," says the mother of two children, who go to a CBSE school in Adyar. Her daughter, a kindergarten student, and her son who is in Class III, prefer to wait till they get back home to relieve themselves.
In fact, one of her daughter's classmates refused to go to school as she dreaded having to use the toilet there. "Every morning, she would cry and say she does not want to go to school, as the toilet is horrible," says the parent.
Apart from the poor hygiene or lack of water, cited commonly, children point to an "unbearable stench." Another student in Class VI of a reputed school in Mylapore says the toilets on the premises are extremely dirty. "The stench comes even in the first floor," she says.
Her mother is sure the child is not exaggerating. "The few times I have been to her class, I have found stench awful," she says.
Parents say that cleaning the toilets more frequently could be a solution. "Not all small children are toilet-trained. For many, their parents might me doing the job at home. Therefore, it becomes very important for schools to ensure toilets are cleaned frequently," says R. Subha, parent of a Class III student going to a private school in Anna Nagar.
Not voiding one's bladders for hours together could have serious implications on one's health, caution doctors, reports Meera Srinivasan in The Hindu.
Sarada Suresh, director of the Institute of Child Health, says children who do not listen to their body needs and avoid using the toilets may not drink enough water, too.
Urinary infection is another consequence quite common among children. "While we may not be able to conclude that a child picks up the infection at school, it is important that school managements pay more attention to maintaining toilets hygienically," she says.
The number of toilets in schools is grossly insufficient to the number of children. Most teachers do not permit the children to visit the toilet during class hours, either. "So, about 100 children visit the toilet during the break. Some children wait in queues and then decide not to go," Dr. Suresh adds. She suggests that schools stagger the breaks for different classes and have the toilets cleaned between every two breaks.
Priya Ramachandran, Paediatric surgeon and urologist, Kanchi Kamakoti CHILDS Trust Hospital also says complaints of children with urinary infections are on the rise. "It is more common among girls in the kindergarten sections," she says.
For some of her patients with recurrent urinary infections, Dr. Ramachandran has had to send letters to the school to permit the ward to use the toilet frequently. "For children with problems in the bladder, not voiding them for long hours could be devastating," she adds.