While observing that sexual harassment in schools, colleges and other educational institutions is one of these evils which remains inadequately addressed, the Madras High Court at Madurai has issued directions to the State government for proper implementation of the law and policies framed against sexual abuse of children.

The Bench of Justice R. Mahadevan and Justice Sathya Narayana Prasad observed 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" and directed that the School Education Department to coordinate with the State Commission for Protection of Child to 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 further directed that schools may frame anti-sexual harassment policy and a copy of the same is distributed to the students and teachers and that every school should have a reporting and redressal mechanism in place.

The Court also said 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 sensitization programmes in schools on sexual abuse; and monitor the operationalization of mobile counselling centers."

In this case, the writ petition was filed by social activist Veronica Mary seeking the proper functioning of mobile counselling centres in schools to prevent sexual crimes against children and submitted that the students are living in an unsafe environment both inside and outside the schools and that sexual harassment in schools not only affects the victim miserably but also creates a sense of fear and restlessness amongst the students.

Advocate R. Alagumani appeared on behalf of the petitioner and submitted that even though the government passed and order in 2012 for setting 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 but the same have not been made effectively operational in any district.

Special Government Pleader S. Shaji Bino appeared on behalf of the Respondents and submitted that the authorities have taken steps to implement the Government Order in letter and spirit.

In 2012, the government had introduced the counselling service on wheels to prevent the instances of sexual abuse among children in the schools by making psychological counselling services accessible but it was noted by the Court that even though this initiative was introduced a decade ago, there has been no substantial change.

The Court further appreciated the government for announcing the helpline no. '14417' for handling the calls regarding the complaints of sexual harassment and said that "the court 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."

The Court further expressed that "Thus, visualizing the importance of the same, 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."

Accordingly, the Court disposed of the Writ petition.

Cause Title- A. Veronica Mary v. The State of Tamil Nadu & Ors.

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