Calcutta HC directs implementation of comprehensive guidelines to combat Child Sexual Abuse in schools

Calcutta HC directs implementation of comprehensive guidelines to combat Child Sexual Abuse in schools

The Calcutta High Court has directed the implementation of comprehensive guidelines intended to ensure the prevention of child sexual abuse within schools, and the due reporting of such incidents should they occur.

Last September, Justice Patherya had directed Amicus Curiae Phiroze Edulji to assist in the compilation of report on this issue, after a case involving the rape of child less than six years old reached the High Court.

The team which compiled the report also comprised of Debi Kar (Director of Modern High School), Mahesh Menon (Assistant Professor at WBNUJS), the Principal Secretary of the State School Education Deportment, UNICEF representatives, as well as authorised representatives from the following schools i.e.

  • St James School,
  • La Martiniere School for Boys
  • Calcutta Boys School
  • St. Xavier’s Collegiate School for Boys,
  • Loreto House, 
  • South Point School, 
  • Patha Bhavan, 
  • Lady Queen of the Missions School

The finalised report, on the Standards of Procedure for Safety and Security of Children in Schools was accepted by the Court on Friday. The Court has directed the time-bound implementation of the guidelines contained therein.

In doing so, Justice Patherya also dismissed the State’s plea for more time to appoint counsellors in schools, as directed in the guidelines. The Court noted that if the implementation of the guidelines is delayed any further, it is the child that suffers.

Let steps be taken accordingly and the only reason why this direction is passed and time period has been mentioned is that unless a direction is given, no step will be taken and in the end, the person who will suffer is not us, lawyers, Judge of Government but the child and it is only for the purpose of that child that this issue has been pursued by this Court and it is only for this reason this direction has been passed this day.

Accordingly, the State has been directed to appoint counsellors in all schools in the State within a year in a phased manner. Further, the case has also been kept pending to review the implementation of the guidelines.

Guidelines have been framed from the precautionary and responsive perspectives. To begin with, the report recommends that schools adopt an expansive definition of child sexual abuse, as already envisioned in the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012. Accordingly, child sexual abuse may involve any form of abuse whether with or without physical touch or penetration, whether through online networks such as online games, social media or otherwise.

The report recommends that child sexual abuse in the widest possible terms be identified, recognised, called out and stringently punished. The report also emphasises that online sexual abuse, in particular, must be recognised as a serious form and medium of sexual abuse.

Other specific measures laid down in the report include the following.

Preventive Measures

Setting up a Nodal Body

The Nodal Body is expected to publish annual reports of the work done by them. The responsibilities of this Nodal Body would include:

  • sensitising school staff and parents
  • covering basic knowledge on relevant provisions of the law (IPC, Juvenile Justice At POCSO etc) in awareness material
  • building local networks with relevant authorities and the support of civil society organisations
  • procuring annual reports from each school on steps taken to implement the guidelines, complaints of sexual harassment etc.
  • providing support to schools in ongoing child sexual abuse case investigations
  • ensuring accountability of schools.

Background checks of school staff

All teachers and school staff must be screened at the time of recruitment. To this end, each prospective teacher or staff should mandatorily furnish a notarised affidavit that s/he is not involved in any case involving sexual crimes or whether there is any such proceeding pending before him or her.

The prospective teacher/ staff should also provide at least one positive reference from their previous employer. If the candidate is a fresh graduate, such endorsement would be required from a teacher/professor of their university. The school should maintain proper documentation pertaining to all staff, including referrals received. The information must also be shared with the Nodal Body.

These checks would also be applicable for temporary staff or volunteers as well as those responsible for the transport of children. For visiting staff, a referral from current employers would be sufficient.

Establishing Student Safety Monitoring Committees

Every school must designate a Student Safety and Security Monitoring Committee (SSMC) at the school, to be responsible for compliance with these guidelines, as well as responding to emergency sexual abuse cases. The report also lays down the composition of the SSMC in schools.

Appointing Child welfare Counsellors in all schools in the state

Child psychology experts must be appointed as school counsellors. These counsellors must have at least two years of experience in actively dealing with child welfare. A suggestion box must also be available for children to anonymously submit complaints on the problems they face at school.

Sex Education classes

There must be annual guidance classes on sex education and sexual abuse. The topics to be covered should include

  • the difference between ‘Good and bad touch’;
  • identifying and saying “No” to sexual abuse;
  • reporting sexual abuse to trusted adults (teachers, counsellors etc.) and availing Childline and e-complaint services

Other Measures

  • Maintain emergency contact registers at schools.
  • A permanent log book should record details of decisions taken to protect the students.
  • School contact details must be shared with the local agencies (including the SSMC) and the students’ family/guardians. Any changes should be notified immediately.
  • All after-school activities taking place within the school must be supervised. The contact details of the supervising staff must be shared with the students’ family/guardiancs.
  • All school staff members would have a continuing duty to guard against the sexual abuse of students and reporting the same if they come to know of such abuse having occurred.
  • The report also guides on useful indicators for staff to discern whether a child has been sexually abused, given that students spend a considerable time around the staff. An illustrative table describes unexplained injuries and behavioural changes in the child which may be useful to find out whether a child has become a victim of sexual abuse.

Responsive Measures

In the event that a complaint of sexual abuse is made by a child or if such an incident comes to light, it must be reported.

Irrespective of the gravity or nature of allegation or strength of evidence, every incident of child sexual abuse must be reported by the school to the police and/or other concerned authorities. The same must also be intimated to the Nodal Body within 48 hours. A supplementary guideline calls for an internal inquiry process also to be initiated by the SSMC.

Further, the school is required to ensure compliance with the following obligations:

  • The evidence must be safeguarded.
  • The privacy of the child should be strictly ensured.
  • The identity of the accused must also be kept confidential, save for sharing the information with the police, the Nodal Body, other legal authorities, family members of the complainant and necessary members of the school.
  • There should be no automatic suspension of the accused, except where there is sufficiently clear evidence that the complaint is prima facie true.
  • Separate the physical space between the complainant and the accused. Prevent any further direct contact between the two.
  • Procedures for the immediate medical examination of the child as a matter of first priority upon receipt of a sexual abuse complaint, have also been detailed. Free medical aid should also be provided as required by the law, by registered practitioners while maintaining privacy during the exam.
  • Principles of the Juvenile Justice Act must be embedded to the guidelines.

Another notable guideline concerns the freedom of the child to change schools upon such incident coming to light. Irrespective of the outcome of the complaint, the child must have the freedom to change schools. The recipient school would be responsible to work in coordination with the previous school for effecting the transfer, without imposing minimum academic qualifications for a transfer in the next two academic years immediately succeeding the year of transfer.

This does not mean that the child would automatically pass the class, but rather the failure to clear academic requirements would not be a bar on the child remaining in the class s/he transferred to. This benefit would continue for a minimum of two subsequent academic years. The fact of the sexual abuse complaint should also be kept strictly confidential.

The High Court has directed that the matter be taken up next in six months time, observing that,

This mater cannot come to an end as review of the workings will have to be undertaken and it is only for this reason that this writ petition is adjourned for six months and let it be place before the appropriate Court six months hence.

Read the Order passed on November 16, 2018:

Attachment
PDF
Bikash-Roy-v-State-West-Bengal-Cal-HC-Nov-16.-2018.pdf
Preview

Read the Order passed on October 1, 2018:

Attachment
PDF
Bikash-Roy-v-State-of-WB-Cal-HC-Oct-1-2018.pdf
Preview

Read the Order passed on September 26, 2018:

Attachment
PDF
Bikash-Roy-v-State-of-WB-Cal-HC-Sept-26-2018.pdf
Preview

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