The Calcutta High Court on Friday directed authorities to appoint counsellors in about one lakh educational institutions in West Bengal to protect students from sexual abuse.
The Court was acting on a petition filed by parents of a girl child who suffered abuse by physical education teachers of a city based school. Instead of confining itself to the individual issue, the Court decided to examine the larger social impact of the matter and appointed Advocate Phiroze Edulji as amicus curiae to coordinate with different schools to set out Standard of Procedure for safety and security of children.
A panel of education experts was formed, comprising teachers from St.James School, Le Martiniere School,Calcutta Boys School, Loreto House, South Point School, Patha Bhavan and Lady Queen of the Missions School. The panel also comprised Debi Kar, Director of Modern High School, Mahesh Menon, Assitant Professor at WBNUJS, Principal Secretary of the State School Education Department, and also UNICEF representatives.
The amicus curiae submitted a 100-page report to the court on November 12 suggesting formation of a nodal body under the State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, which would work for spreading awareness among school staff, sensitise parents and set up a syllabus for awareness of staff, students and parents. It also suggested stringent background check of a person before appointing him or her to any position in a school. The guideline proposed by the amicus curiae said, "Every school must appoint a person, who is an expert in child psychology, psychiatry or sociology and who has been actively involved in child welfare activities for a period of at least two years, as a counsellor for children in school."
Justice Nadira Patherya, the single judge handling the matter, directed that the report placed by amicus curiae Phiroze Edulji be kept on record and steps be taken to implement its suggestions.
Justice Nadira Patherya ordered that counsellors will have to be appointed to all educational institutions in the state in a phased manner within one year. The judge observed that progress in implementation of the report by amicus curiae, assisted by the court-appointed panel of educationists, on safeguarding pupils in educational institutions from sexual abuse needs to be monitored from time to time. She directed the state and the Centre to file a progress report after six months.
“Let steps be taken accordingly and the only reason why this direction is passed and time period has been mentioned is that unless a direction is given, no step will be taken and in the end, the person who will suffer is not us, lawyers, Judge of Government but the child and it is only for the purpose of that child that this issue has been pursued by this Court and it is only for this reason this direction has been passed this day", Justice Patherya observed in the order.
Considering the difficulty expressed by the Additional Advocate general Abhratosh Majumdar to appoint one lakh counsellors immediately in one go, the Court said that they need be appointed in a phased manner.
The Centre on Thursday told the court that it was agreeable to the guidelines on safety of students in schools as proposed by the amicus curiae.
Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Kaushik Chanda told the court that Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 already provides for security measures of school students, but the government was, nevertheless, agreeable to the Standards of Procedure (SOP) proposed by the amicus curiae as an additional initiative.