MADURAI: Observing 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 Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court recently ordered the state government to ensure effective implementation of policies and legislations framed against sexual crimes in the schools.
A Bench of justices R Mahadevan and J Sathya Narayana Prasad directed the School Education Department to work in coordination with the Tamil Nadu Commission for Protection of Child Rights (TNCPCR), to make sure that the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) is constituted in schools as required under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.
“The schools should frame an anti-sexual harassment policy and a copy of the same should be distributed to the students and teachers. Every school should have a reporting and redressal mechanism in place and it should be made known to the students,” the judges added. They further directed that a nodal body, with representatives from the TNCPCR and school education department, should be formed to coordinate and supervise the government-led awareness and sensitisation programmes on sexual abuse in schools and monitor the operation of mobile counselling centres.
The directions were issued on a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by A Veronica Mary of Madurai, seeking to ensure the proper functioning of mobile counselling centres to give free counselling to school students in government and private schools across the State.
The judges observed that the mobile counselling centres were set up to undertake sensitization and awareness programmes among students and provide psychological counselling to teachers. “It has been a decade since this initiative was introduced, but there is no substantial change, as evident from the information received through RTI by the petitioner.”
The government had recently announced a helpline number ‘14417’ to be printed on all textbooks and constituted a dedicated team to handle the calls coming through this toll-free number, to help the students make complaints relating to child abuse and sexual harassment.