RSTV: THE BIG PICTURE- POSCO AND EXCLUSIVE COURTS
The Supreme Court on Thursday directed the Centre to set up a dedicated special court in every district which has over 100 cases under Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) pending. The apex court gave this mandate with a deadline of 60 days, as it was concerned about the slow pace at which child sexual abuse cases are being dealt with. A bench of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, Justice Deepak Gupta and Justice Aniruddha Bose made these statements when they learnt that 1.5 lakh POCSO cases were pending in 670 designated courts. Quoting available data, the court pointed out that only 3% victims in POCSO cases received compensation in 2015, and the number increased to only 4% and 5% in 2016 and 2017 respectively. Per this data, a judge on an average has to go decide on 224 cases. To address this, the apex court asked for the Centre to set up special courts, which should be funded by the Centre as well.
The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO Act) 2012 was formulated in order to effectively address sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children.
Role of police: The Act casts the police in the role of child protectors during the investigative process. Thus, the police personnel receiving a report of sexual abuse of a child are given the responsibility of making urgent arrangements for the care and protection of the child, such as obtaining emergency medical treatment for the child and placing the child in a shelter home, and bringing the matter in front of the Child Welfare Committee (CWC), should the need arise.
Safeguards: The Act further makes provisions for avoiding the re-victimisation of the child at the hands of the judicial system. It provides for special courts that conduct the trial in-camera and without revealing the identity of the child, in a manner that is as child-friendly as possible. Hence, the child may have a parent or other trusted person present at the time of testifying and can call for assistance from an interpreter, special educator, or other professional while giving evidence. Above all, the Act stipulates that a case of child sexual abuse must be disposed of within one year from the date the offence is reported.
Mandatory reporting: The Act also provides for mandatory reporting of sexual offences. This casts a legal duty upon a person who has knowledge that a child has been sexually abused to report the offence; if he fails to do so, he may be punished with six months’ imprisonment and/ or a fine.
Definitions: The Act defines a child as any person below eighteen years of age. It defines different forms of sexual abuse, including penetrative and non-penetrative assault, as well as sexual harassment and pornography. It deems a sexual assault to be “aggravated” under certain circumstances, such as when the abused child is mentally ill or when the abuse is committed by a person in a position of trust or authority like a family member, police officer, teacher, or doctor.
Amendments in the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012:
Key changes proposed:
- It will make punishment more stringent for committing sexual crimes against children including death penalty.
- It includes provision of death penalty in cases of sexual offences against children.
- The amendments also provide for levy of fines and imprisonment to curb child pornography.
- Amendments are also proposed to protect children from sexual offences in times of natural calamities and in other situations where children are administered, in any way, any hormone or any chemical substance, to attain early sexual maturity for the purpose of penetrative sexual assault.
- The amendment is expected to discourage the trend of child sexual abuse by acting as a deterrent due to strong penal provisions incorporated in the Act.
- It intends to protect the interest of vulnerable children in times of distress and ensures their safety and dignity.
- The amendment is aimed to establish clarity regarding the aspects of child abuse and punishment thereof.
Guidelines by the SC for Setting up of special courts:
- Such courts will be funded by the central government. The fund will not only take care of the appointment of the presiding officer but also appointments of support persons, special public prosecutors, court staff and infrastructure, including creation of childfriendly environment and vulnerable witness court rooms.
- Awareness: WCD ministry shall facilitate screening of “short clips intended to spread awareness of the subject in general, namely, prevention of child abuse and prosecution of crimes against children, in every movie hall and could also be transmitted by various television channels at regular intervals.
- A child helpline number should also be displayed in such clips and at schools and other public places.
Kerala has the worst judge-case ratio, as it has set up just three designated courts for 14 districts with each required to deal with 2,211 cases.
Chhattisgarh and Punjab have the lowest average of 51 cases per designated court.
Why is it that despite having POSCO Act, there are so many cases?
- The Indian constitution has safeguarded every person before he or she is punished by the means of fair trial which has led to pendency of cases.
- 2006 survey reveals that 88% children of the total surveyed have been abused by their parents which is not revealed.
- Society is changing fast, exposure and too much interaction leads to gap in understanding each other which may inturn lead to crime by close mates.
- Lack of social awareness among the masses.
- Children find it difficult to understand many advertisements and campaigns related to abuses.
- There is advancement of law but it appears that it has no impact because the number of cases is multiplying.
- Problem with implementation of the law.
- Child protection committees not in place at village level.
- Politicization of rape cases on communal grounds.
- Many of us donot know about POSCO act.
- The rate of conviction under the POSCO act is only 32% as that of past 5 years and pendency is 90%.
- Absence of proper training at village level leads to child abuse.
- Judges donot use the power to announce medical interim compensations to the victims.
- In a 2017 report, “Everyone Blames Me,” Human Rights Watch found that survivors (of the crime), particularly among marginalized communities, still find it difficult to register police complaints.
- Every case desires media attention equally and not only Unnao and Kathua rape cases.
- Massive awareness should be created among the masses about child’s dignity and about the law in place.
- POSCO Act needs to be part of school syllabus.
- Along with fast track courts, proper infrastructure and judges capacity should be looked upon.
- Need of ground level work.
- Speedy delivery of justice.
- Proper police training and a dedicated children cell at stations as that of a women cell.
- Need of accountability at each and every level.
- Many Indians – men and women – refuse to believe that sexual violence is a serious problem eating away at India’s vitals. It is essential to recognise that the crisis lies in the precise manner in which the existing criminal justice system unfolds.
- Instant medical relief and compensations should be provided to the victim.
- Children should be given a platform and proper environment to speak against such abuse.
- Check on technology.
- Strict action must be taken against the police officer found guilty of obstructing the probe or colluding with perpetrators of such cases.
- Providing sex education to children, which is neglected in India. This makes them more aware of various protective laws, good touch-bad touch et
Society itself will have to take the responsibility of giving it the right direction. Without this, we cannot achieve all the promise that we had as a nation at the time of Independence. We must collectively rise to the occasion and create a safe India for our children.
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