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Madras High Court Asks Schools To Frame Anti-Sexual Harassment Policy, Provide Reporting & Redressal Mechanism To Students

Upasana Sajeev
30 Nov 2022 3:08 PM GMT
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Artwork courtesy of 'Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Sexual Abuse' (Philippines)

Observing that sexual harassment in educational institutions continues to remain inadequately addressed, the Madras High Court recently issued directions to the State government for proper implementation of the law and policies framed against sexual abuse of children.

The division bench of Justice R Mahadevan and Justice Sathya Narayana Prasad directed the school education department to coordinate with the State Commission for Protection Of Child Rights to ensure that an Internal Complaints Committee is constituted in the schools as required under under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.

The court also said the schools may frame anti-sexual harassment policy and distribute it among students and teachers. Importantly, the court said it needs to be ensured that every schools has reporting and redressal mechanism in place.

"A nodal body with representatives from the State Commission for Protection of Child and School Education Department, shall be formed to coordinate and monitor the Government led awareness and sensitization programmes in schools on sexual abuse; and monitor the operationalization of mobile counselling centers," the court said in the order.

The division bench said that sexual abuse is an assault on the very dignity and personhood of a child, which leaves a lasting trauma on children hindering their overall development.

The court was hearing social activist Veronica Mary's petition seeking proper functioning of mobile counselling centres in schools to prevent sexual crimes against children. Drawing attention to various crimes that are happening against children in schools, Mary submitted that the same have created a sense of fear and restlessness among the students.

The counsel representing the petitioner submitted that though the government had passed an order in 2012 for setting up mobile counselling centres for counselling of students and for solving problems related to sexual harassment in schools, the same have not been made effectively operational in any district.

In 2012, Tamil Nadu government had introduced a counselling service on wheels to prevent the instances of sexual abuse among children in the schools by making psychological counselling services accessible. These mobile centres were required to undertake sentisitization and awareness programmes among students and provide psychological counselling to teachers.

The court noted that even though this initiative was introduced a decade ago, there has been no substantial change. While appreciating the government for announcing a helpline number ('14417') for students to make calls regarding complaints of sexual harassment, the court said it cannot lose its sight with regard to non-functioning of the mobile counselling centres, as it is important and necessary to protect the students in the schools against the sexual crimes at the threshold itself.

"Thus, visualizing the importance of the same (protection of children at threshold), this court directs the respondents to consider the representation of the petitioner and take immediate action and if the mobile counselling services are found to be not functioning properly, the same should be in operation forthwith," the bench said, while disposing of the petition.

Case Title: A Veronica Mary v The State of Tamil Nadu and others

Citation: 2022 LiveLaw (Mad) 487

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