POCSO: The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, is a comprehensive law to provide for the protection of children (below 18 years) from the offences of sexual assault, sexual harassment and pornography by incorporating child-friendly mechanisms for reporting, recording of evidence, investigation and speedy trial of offences through designated Special Courts.
The Act has come into force with effect from 14th November, 2012 along with the Rules framed there under.
It defines different forms of sexual abuse, including penetrative and non-penetrative assault, as well as sexual harassment and pornography,
A sexual assault is considered 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 vis-à-vis the child, like a family member, police officer, teacher, or doctor. People who traffic children for sexual purposes are also punishable under the provisions relating to abetment.
It prescribes stringent punishment graded as per the gravity of the offence, with a maximum term of rigorous imprisonment for life, and fine. It provides for mandatory reporting of sexual offences so it is a legal duty upon a person who has knowledge that a child has been sexually abused to report the offence; failure to do so may cause a six months‟ imprisonment and/ or a fine.
The police take role of child protectors during the investigative process. and 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, should the need arise. They are required to bring the matter to the attention of the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) within 24 hours of receiving the report, so the CWC may then proceed where required to make further arrangements for the safety and security of the child.
As per the Act
- The medical examination of the child should be conducted with least distress and in the presence of the parent or other person whom the child trusts, and in the case of a female child, by a female doctor.
- The Special Courts should conduct the trial in-camera and without revealing the identity of the child, in a child-friendly manner with a trusted guardian present.
- The child is not to be called repeatedly to testify in court and may testify through video-link rather than in a courtroom.
- Act stipulates that a case of child sexual abuse must be disposed of within one year from the date the offence is reported.
- The Special Court can determine the amount of compensation to be paid to a child who has been sexually abused, so that this money can then be used for the child‟s medical treatment and rehabilitation.
Children who have been sexually abused are not only traumatised as a result of their experience, but are also more vulnerable to further and repeated abuse and at risk of secondary victimization at the hands of the justice delivery process.
A common example is the handling of cases of child victims by unspecialized police, prosecutors and judges who are not trained in justice for children, children’s rights or how to deal and communicate with victim children and their families.
The lack of clear guidelines and procedures on how to deal with child victims and their families in a child – sensitive manner during the court process affects the quality of trial and evidence and trial process; the child is subjected in such cases to repeated probing and questioning, made to relive the traumatic incident again and again, and thereby suffer in the retelling.
The victims also do not receiving proper medical support and counselling, causing physical and mental distress to the child and his/her family and hampering the healing process for the child. In addition to this, families and child victims are unable to benefit from legal aid as the appropriate agencies are not involved at the right stage in the procedure.
Child victims do not receive timely advice and assistance so as to be free from a fear of family breakdowns and social isolation if the offender is a relative and/or the breadwinner of the family. There is also no system of supervision for checking the welfare and well-being of child victims during and after the court process, particularly when the abuser is the parent or guardian of the child.
The prevention of child sexual abuse, protection of victims, justice delivery, and rehabilitation of victims are not isolated issues. The achievement of these objectives requires a co-ordinated response of all the key players, which include the police, prosecution, Courts, medical institutions, psychologists and counsellors, as well as institutions that provide social services to the children.