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Court and the Child

Editorial |

In the aftermath of horrific instances of child abuse in several girls’ schools in Kolkata, the recommendations of a Calcutta High Court appointed committee urgently call for reflection. The report was readily accepted by Justice Nadira Patherya on Friday, and the court has couched its concurrence with a directive to schools to urgently implement the suggestions advanced.

The progress of implementation will be monitored by the High Court after six months ~ a supplementary that will hopefully guard against the tendency to routinely docket such enquiry reports. It must be acknowledged that the judiciary has rushed in where the stakeholders ~ school authorities and parents ~ fear to tread.

The striking feature of the recommendations is the humane element, chief among them being that the child, who has suffered sexual harassment, will have the choice to shift to any other school. The child cannot be “blacklisted” or disqualified on account of the outrage; nor for that matter can her predicament be a deterrent for obtaining a transfer certificate.

However, the court has warned that “false allegations” by parents to get their child admitted to a school of their choice will incur rejection of their applications. Altogether, the suggestions are more important than installing CCTVs in a place of learning; such surveillance inherently runs counter to the spirit of education. Societal values must of necessity be inculcated, and this is critical in the overall construct.

Clearly, the report seeks to protect the “abused” child in search of learning, while simultaneously placing the school authorities on alert. Rightly has Justice Patherya remarked that the committee, pre-eminently the amicus curiae, Phiroze Adulji, has put its “heart and soul in the matter by taking up the cause of juveniles who usually are silent spectators”. The school authorities will, therefore, be expected to match the High Court’s intervention with equal sincerity.

One major recommendation is the directive to appoint counsellors in every school. The Bench is acutely aware that it is no easy task to appoint counsellors to one lakh schools in West Bengal within six months. Hence the observation of Justice Patherya ~ “It is true that the appointment of one lakh counsellors is a Herculean task, but we are dealing with an issue for the future of this state and it is for this that a relaxation be made”.

Accordingly, the time-frame for government schools has been extended to one year, and the task will have to be accomplished in a phased manner. “Unless a direction on the appointment of counsellors is given, no step will be taken and the person who will suffer is not us ~ lawyers, judge or government ~ but the child”.

It is pretty obvious that the report of the committee and the observations of the Bench are riveted to the welfare of the child and the advancement of learning. One final point ~ the malaise is fairly common in private coaching centres as well.