Include' Prevention-Oriented Program on sexual abuse' in curriculum: Kerala HC to school boards

Citing Erin's law in the US, Kerala HC has directed the state and CBSE boards to include a 'Prevention-Oriented Program on sexual abuse in the school curriculum.
Kerala High Court (File Photo| A Sanesh, EPS)
Kerala High Court (File Photo| A Sanesh, EPS)

KOCHI: Kerala High Court on Friday directed the state government and the CBSE to issue necessary orders making it mandatory for every school under its control to include a "prevention-oriented program on sexual abuse" in the curriculum.

Justice Bechu Kurian Thomas also said that a committee of experts shall be formed by the state government and the CBSE within two months to identify the mode and methodology for imparting an age-appropriate prevention-oriented program on sexual abuse. The committee of experts shall submit its recommendation within six months from its formation. An appropriate order shall thereafter be issued by the state of Kerala and the CBSE in tune with the recommendation to implement the program from the academic year 2023-2024.

The concept of quality education can have meaning only if orientation on sexual offences and the means to prevent them are imparted at the school level itself. A prevention-oriented program on sexual abuse is necessary. In this context, it's relevant to refer to the system prevailing in many states in the United States of America. In the year 2011, in the state of Illinois, legislation was passed and mandates all schools to implement a prevention-oriented child sexual abuse program.

The program requires public schools to teach child sexual abuse and exploitation prevention classes to students in kindergarten through eighth grade. The legislation is called "Erin's law" named after Erin Merryn, a child abuse survivor, and activist against child sexual abuse. Erin's law has now been passed as legislation in 37 states and is pending consideration in 13 other states of the United States of America.

The fact that most states are incorporating programs to prevent sexual abuse as part of mandatory requirements indicates the success of such programs. Erin's law can be used as a guideline by the state of Kerala and the CBSE while including the program as part of the curriculum. These are matters on which the government, CBSE, and other educational institutions must deliberate and evolve an appropriate methodology, said the court.

The court issued the order based on the suggestions made by the Kerala State Legal Service Authority, CBSE, and the state government. The court invited suggestions about the possible methods to create awareness among young children regarding the purport of the POCSO Act and its rigour.

The Kerala State Legal Service Authority filed the report stating that "the terms, ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch’ seem to baffle children since there is ambiguity and hence should be replaced with the term, ‘secret touch’, ‘safe touch’, ‘unsafe touch’ or ‘unwanted touch’.

Emphasising the relevance of sex education, KeLSA, submitted that the unhealthy notion prevailing in society, especially among children regarding sex education is a major concern to be addressed. They relate the term ‘sex’ to the act of sex alone and nurture perverted notions about it by getting information from the wrong sources. Sex education should include a lot of other issues like biological concepts.

Other than that they tend to understand only the act of sex. Regarding social alertness, the KeLSA report stated that children should be made aware of general atrocities happening around them and should be empowered to react and respond to such atrocities and defend themselves. Lack of guidance, proper education, and also misguidance to a large extent have resulted in children misrepresenting and wrongly reacting to genuine gestures of love from family members.

This can be addressed only by sensible, balanced training imparted by psychologists and teachers. It stated that children have to be made aware of negative and dark elements in society but at the same time they should not grow up judgmental and develop a fear of society.

The KeLSA also said that children should be made aware to respect the privacy associated with their bodies. They should be appropriately and scientifically made aware of the biological changes taking place in their body and how to handle the same.

CBSE informed that the board has stressed that teachers, management, and all the employees of the school need to be made aware of the provision of the POCSO Act, some of which cast a duty on them to report instances of child abuse.

The Board had advised the schools under it to sensitize children and create awareness on the issue of child sexual abuse by showing a film titled- "Komal" which is uploaded and available on the CBSE YouTube channel. This film has one the national film award this year in the category of best educational film.

In a circular issued in 2017, the board directed the schools to take measures such as safety of premises, CCTV monitoring, character antecedent verification, visitor management, training of staff, and Internal Complaints Committee on sexual harassment and committees under the POCSO Act to ensure the safety of children.

The CBSE also mandated that all schools should check gender-specific violence, and strictly comply with the guidelines, norms, and procedures prescribed in the POCSO Act, the sexual harassment of women in the workplace (prevention, prohibition, and redressal) Act, and other Union and state Acts.

The Board also said that under the directions of the Ministry of Education has implemented the 'Adolescence Education Programs' (AEP) at the secondary level from class IX onwards as part of the co-curricular activities in schools affiliated to it. The objective of AEP was to develop value-enhanced life skills for coping and managing concerns of adolescence through co-curricular activities.

The other areas covered under AEP are awareness about value systems, gender sensitivity, abstinence, resisting peer pressure, strengthening personal beliefs and opinions, learning to deal with anger, making informed decisions, coping with stress, and dealing with emotions.

The advocacy manual of the AEP defines the role of schools, principals, and facilitators containing detailed information relating to child sexual abuse. The Board has also come out with three sets of gender-sensitive activity cards for primary, middle, secondary, and senior secondary classes which comprise various activities related to gender issues submitted to the Board.

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