The Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court recently issued an array of directions to the Tamil Nadu government for effective implementation of policies and legislation framed against sexual crimes in schools across the state.
Importantly, the court suggested that an anti-sexual harassment policy may also be framed by the schools and a copy of the same should be distributed to the students and teachers.
The bench of Justice R Mahadevan and Justice J Sathya Narayana Prasad ordered that the School Education Department in coordination with the State Commission for Protection of Child will ensure that Internal Complaints Committee is constituted in schools as required under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.
The court directed that the department will also ensure that every school has a reporting and redressal mechanism in place and it is made known to the students.
It also said 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.
Keeping the same in view, the court ordered that 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 sensitisation programmes in schools on sexual abuse; and monitor the operationalisation of mobile counselling centres.
The directions were issued in a writ petition moved by social activist A. Veronica Mary based on the report published in the newspapers about an arrest of a schoolteacher for teaching in an obscene manner. A girl student had attempted suicide as a result of sexual harassment.
Mary had sought issuance of a writ of mandamus, directing the respondent authorities to ensure proper functioning of the mobile counselling centres to prevent sexual crimes against the students in government, government-aided and private schools.
Mary had relied on a government order dated May 17, 2012 issued by the School Education Department which was passed to set up mobile counselling centres, offering counselling services to the students through a professional counsellor or an assistant, giving awareness to the students and training to the teachers, for the purpose of solving the problems relating to sexual harassment in schools.
Mary had alleged that such mobile counselling centres have not been in operation effectively in any district.
The court directed the respondents to consider the representation made in September this year by Mary to take steps to ensure the functioning of the mobile counselling centres and take immediate action.
It ordered that if the mobile counselling services are found to be not functioning properly, the same should be in operation forthwith.
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