[Sansad TV] Mudda AapKa: POCSO Act

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  • Non-reporting of sexual assault against a minor child despite knowledge is a serious crime, held the Supreme Court under the POCSO Act.
  • It further added that such non-reporting is more often than not done in an attempt to shield the offenders of the crime.

What is POCSO Act?

  • The Ministry of Women and Child Development championed the introduction of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012.
  • The Act has been enacted to protect children from offences of sexual assault, sexual harassment and pornography and provide for establishment of Special Courts for trial of such offences.
  • The Act was amended in 2019, to make provisions for enhancement of punishments for various offences so as to deter the perpetrators and ensure safety, security and dignified childhood for a child.

Features of the Act   

  • Gender neutrality: The Act is gender neutral and regards the best interests and welfare of the child. The Act calls for mandatory reporting of sexual offences. A false complaint with intent to defame a person is punishable under the Act.
  • Definition of Child: The Act defines a child as any person below eighteen years of age.
  • Definitions of sexual abuses: It defines different forms of sexual abuse, including penetrative and non-penetrative assault, as well as sexual harassment and pornography.
  • Prevents child trafficking: People who traffic children for sexual purposes are also punishable under the provisions relating to abetment in the Act.  
  • Preventing re-victimization of child: Adequate provisions are made to avoid re-victimization of the Child at the hands of the judicial system.
  • Sensitization of Police: The Act assigns a policeman in the role of child protector during the investigation process.
  • Child friendly investigation: The Act stipulates that such steps must be taken which makes the investigation process as child-friendly as possible.
  • Speedy disposal: The Act provides for the establishment of Special Courts for the trial of such offences and stipulates that the case is disposed of within one year from the date of reporting of the offence.

What is the rationale behind the legislation?

  • Multiple facets of crime: New forms of child abuse like online bullying, harassment and Child Pornography have emerged to a greater extent.
  • Exception handling: As per the last available data from the National Crime Records Bureau of child rape cases came up before the courts under the POCSO Act read with Indian Penal Code Section 376.
  • Larger conviction: Less than three per cent cases ended in convictions, pointing to the need for better access to justice for all, and not just more stringent conviction in a small percentage of cases.
  • Deterrence against crime: There is the belief that harsher punishments will deter people from committing child rape.
  • Zero-tolerance: Lastly, the disgust for the crime makes the perpetrator ‘deserving’ of death penalty.

Issues with the Law

  • Recurrence of such crime: In the context of child rape, many preventive measures and policies do have a definitive impact on preventing child rape.
  • Lower conviction: The conviction rates are low under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012.
  • Investigation bottlenecks: There is lack of specialised investigators, prosecutors, judges, mental health professionals, doctors, forensic experts and social workers.
  • Protection bottlenecks: Inadequate child protection and rehabilitation services, lack of compliance with child-friendly legal procedures are some other concerns.
  • Under-reporting: A large proportion of perpetrators are family members or those close to or known to the family. This results in massive underreporting of such crimes.
  • Protection of convicts: This concern will only intensify with death penalty, as the child’s family often settles a case of known person preventing him to the gallows.
  • Vulnerability: The arbitrariness of the death penalty in India also arises from the discriminatory impact of the choice of what constitutes ‘rarest of rare’.
  • Delay of trials: The Kathua Rape case took 16 months for the main accused to be convicted whereas the POCSO Act clearly mentions that the entire trial and conviction process has to be done in one year.
  • Communal Politicization:  Considering rapes on communal angles is another challenge. The Unnao rape case and Kathua rape case are some of the examples.

Way forward

  • The social menace of child rape requires sustained planning, engagement, and investment of resources by the government.
  • The need of the hour is to prioritise prevention activities against abuse, creating safe (physical and online) environments for children.
  • Developing a comprehensive outreach system to engage parents, schools, communities, NGOs partners and local governments as well as police and lawyers is needed.
  • This will ensure better implementation of the legal framework, policies, national strategies and standards.

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