New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday (April 10) asked the Centre to prepare Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and formulate a national model to be adopted by all the states and Union Territories for managing menstrual hygiene for girls studying in schools. Terming the issue as of “immense importance”, the top court said the Centre should engage with all the stakeholders for implementation of uniform national policy on management of menstrual hygiene in schools, including government and government-aided schools.
A bench of Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and Justices PS Narasimha and JB Pardiwala appointed secretary of Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MOHFW) as the nodal officer to coordinate with all the states and UTs and collect relevant data for formulating a national policy.
The bench noted that MoHFW, Ministry of Education and Ministry of Jal Shakti have schemes running on the issue of menstrual hygiene. it said,
At the present stage, we are of the considered view that Centre should engage with all the stakeholders for implementation of the uniform national policy with a leeway for the states and UTs to modify the scheme as per their local needs.
The bench said keeping in mind the implementation of the scheme, all the states and UTs are directed to submit their menstrual hygiene management strategies and plans which are being executed either with the help of funds provided by central government or their own, to the Mission Steering Group (MSG) of the National Health Mission (NHM).
It said the mission steering group can re-evaluate the national guidelines based on experiential learning of the last 10 plus years.
The bench said, All states and UTs are directed to notify the appropriate ratio of girls’ toilets for residential and non-residential schools in their respective territories.
It added that all the states and UTs are directed to make provision for ensuring availability of quality low-cost sanitary pads, vending machines in schools. it said,
All states and UTs are further directed to ensure that disposal mechanisms are available for schools/school complexes having girls’ enrolment in upper-primary/ secondary/higher secondary classes for safe disposal of sanitary pads,
The bench directed the Centre to file an updated status report by the end of July, 2023.
At the outset, Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati, appearing for the Centre said there are several guidelines and schemes of different ministries dedicated to improve access to menstrual hygiene for young and adolescent girls but the responsibility of providing health care services lies with the respective state governments as public health is a state subject.
In an affidavit filed before the top court, the Health ministry has said it has undertaken awareness and training programmes and made necessary resources available to girls across the country.
It is submitted that public health is a state subject and the responsibility of providing healthcare services is that of respective state governments. The Central government and its agencies are not the implementing bodies for schemes relating to menstrual health; and it is in fact the states and their agencies which are at the forefront of enforcement of the policies, the ministry said.
It submitted that the Central government is committed to improving menstrual hygiene for young and adolescent girls and to make necessary resources accessible to them.
The affidavit was filed in response to a PIL filed by Congress leader Jaya Thakur through advocate Varinder Kumar Sharma seeking issuance of directions for providing free sanitary pads to girls studying in classes 6 to 12 in government schools across the country.
The ministry stated that menstruation and menstrual practices are clouded by taboos and socio-cultural restrictions for women as well as adolescent girls in India which is combined with limited access to products of sanitary hygiene and lack of safe sanitary facilities.
Moreover, traditionally, there have been practices of using old clothes as pads by recycling them, use of ash or straw, which not affect menstrual hygiene but also have long term implications for reproductive health. The government is dedicated to increase awareness among adolescent girls on menstrual hygiene, build self-esteem and empower girls for better socialisation. The government is also working towards increasing access to and use of high quality sanitary napkins for girls in rural areas, the ministry has said.
Thakur in her plea said serious difficulties are faced by adolescent females between the ages of 11 and 18 years who come from poor backgrounds, in receiving education on account of lack of access to education, a constitutional right under Article 21A of the Constitution. the plea said,
These are adolescent females who are not equipped with and are also not educated by their parents about menstruation and menstrual hygiene. The deprived economic status and illiteracy leads to prevalence of unhygienic and unhealthy practices which has serious health consequences, increase obstinacy and leads to eventual dropping out from schools.
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)
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