Indian family tell of devastation after death of daughter left on Qatar school bus

Tragic accident puts the spotlight on child safety after Minsa Maryam, 4, dies on her birthday

Minsa Maryam died after being left on a school bus in Qatar. Photo: Abilash Chacko
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The heartbroken family of a four-year-old girl who died after being left on a school bus in Qatar are calling for better safety standards in schools.

Minsa Maryam fell asleep on the bus travelling to her school in the eastern city of Al Wakrah on September 11, the same day she was due to celebrate her fourth birthday.

She was found hours later by school staff and taken to hospital, but doctors were unable to save her.

If a simple headcount were done, my daughter would have been alive now
Abilash Chacko, father of Minsa Maryam

Speaking from their family home in India, her father said the tragic accident has put the spotlight on the issue of child neglect.

“If a simple headcount were done, my daughter would have been alive now,” Abilash Chacko told The National.

“It was Minsa’s birthday [that day]. We were planning to go out in the evening and buy her a blue dress and a blueberry cake.

“She even wanted a blue toy, her favourite colour.”

Minsa’s father, mother and sister, Mika, 9, travelled back to their home state of Kerala from Qatar to attend her funeral, which took place on Wednesday.

Speaking only a few days after the emotional ceremony, which was attended by friends and family, Mr Chacko recalled the moment he received a call from the school about Minsa.

“We were under the impression that she was in her class,” he said.

Minsa, the little girl who died after being left in a school bus in Qatar. Photo: Minsa's family

“It was around noon when I got a call from [someone at] her school saying there was an emergency. I could sense the panic in their voice.

“While I was still on my way [to the school], my wife, Soumya, had already reached. She saw an ambulance leaving the school gate with Minsa in it.

“I cannot stop thinking of Minsa’s final hours inside that hot bus. Did she die in her sleep? Did she try to knock on the door and cry for help? No other parent should go through this trauma.”

Though the girl was taken to the intensive care unit, doctors could not save her.

On September 13, Qatar's education ministry announced it has closed the school due to ongoing investigations into the incident.

In a tweet, it said: "The Ministry of Education and Higher Education decided to close the private kindergarten, which witnessed the tragic accident that shook the community with the death of one of the female student."

Calling for increased safety standards in schools, Mr Chacko said “children are not cargo” and said staff needed better training to ensure the utmost safety of [pupils].

“This is not the first time a child has died due to neglect, but I hope this is the last," he said.

Mr Chacko added that if his daughter's death brought about a change in attitude, it would be a small relief for the family.

Child safety education

Tragic stories related to child neglect often dominate the headlines in the Gulf.

Last week, an Emirati toddler drowned in her family’s swimming pool in Ras Al Khaimah after she snuck out of the house.

In another incident on Tuesday, a young boy was found dangling from a window of a high-rise in Sharjah after his mother left him alone for a few minutes to go and buy breakfast at a shop below the building.

Qatar's Minister of Education Buthaina Al Nuaimi on Monday paid her condolences to the girl's parents, Abilash Chacko and Soumya. Photo: Marsal Qatar

Luckily, he was saved by the timely intervention of a watchman and maintenance staff.

UAE authorities have said more than 30 children died between 2012 and 2022 after falling out of windows or balconies.

And in Dubai alone, police responded to 103 cases of child abuse and neglect in 2020.

Authorities have warned parents they could face prosecution and jail time for negligence.

Updated: September 20, 2022, 5:43 AM