Judges tasked with dealing with cases of child sexual abuse have pointed to deficient infrastructure causing delays and making it hard to meet timelines set by the 2012 POSCO Act. Minakshi Das reviews the challenges, highlights proposals to improve the system, and discusses programmes focussed on prevention which are helping to educate children about inappropriate contact.
The dynamics of child sexual abuse (CSA) is complex, and understanding it will promote the safety of our children. To curb abuse, Indonesia has passed a controversial law which advocates chemical castration for paedophiles but this does not make it easier to identify the crime, ensure the abuser is tried in a timely manner and that victims receive necessary support. In India, prior to the passage of Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) in 2012, cases of child sexual abuse were primarily dealt under Section 375 (rape) and Section 376 (punishment of rape), Section 354 (outraging the modesty of a woman or a girl), Section 509 (insulting the modesty of women) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Section 67 of Information Technology Act, 2000. The core essence of the POCSO Act are ‘gender neutral’, ‘child friendly procedure’ and ’special courts’ to exclusively handle CSA cases; it also placed ’mandatory reporting’ and ‘burden of proof’ on the accused. The idea behind formulation of POCSO was imposing ‘stringent law’ to protect the children. It was estimated then around 53 per cent of children in India face some forms of sexual abuse.
Recently, a compilation of reports filed by judges of POCSO cases as well as Delhi State Legal Services Authority (DSLSA) have suggested that ‘there is a serious deficiency in infrastructure’ which results in delay of disposal of cases. Furthermore, they added, it is not ‘feasible’ to follow the mandate of POCSO Act. As under the POCSO Act, cases are to be disposed within one year and victim’s statement has to be recorded within thirty days. The rise in high pendency of CSA cases in Delhi was the biggest concern of the judges. This year, it is estimated that 18.49 per cent of persons accused under the POCSO Act were found guilty. In 2014 16.44 percent of accused were convicted.
The DSLSA’s report has stated that the significant delay in disposal of cases combined with a rise in the reporting of cases have caused ‘an alarm in the mind of the general public that child victims of rape and sexual offence are not getting justice’. Hence, for effective implementation of the Act, DSLSA suggested routine legal audit along with monthly reports of 11 districts should be conducted to keep a check on POCSO cases. Other issues brought forth were the constant delay in obtaining forensic reports and absence of special courts to deal with CSA cases as provided in the Act. At the moment, only the districts of Tis Hazari, Karkardooma, Rohini and Saket have such courtrooms (one each). Poor infrastructure means ‘not more than two child victims can be examined, considering the amount of time that is taken to examine them’. Delays also take place due to unavailability of victims or witnesses.
The Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by Bachpan Bachao Angolan (BBA) caught everyone’s attention early this year. The key issues emphasised in the PIL were ‘time-bound trial’ and ‘disposal of cases’ related to CSA. The PIL also cited National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) figures of 2014, and pointed out delay in the process of investigation and trial to support its claims. According to a study conducted by the HAQ Centre for Child Rights in 2015, only five per cent of the questions have addressed children’s problems in both the houses of the Parliament. A total of 27,879 questions were asked in the Parliament in 2015 of which 1421 were related to children; only 24 questions were raised on the POCSO Act of 2012, child sexual abuse, child abuse and one solo question was on victim compensation.
In the latest NCRB Report of 2015, a total of 94172 cases of crimes against children were reported in India. Under the POCSO Act, 136 incest cases and 8664 other cases were registered (Refer Table 6.1 and 6.7 of NCRB, 2015). BBA in their PIL highlighted the 2014 NCRB report and emphasised that trial in only 409 of a total of 8379 cases were completed. The DSLSA Member Secretary Dharmesh Sharma suggested that to urgently fix this burning issue, it is important to ‘present a true picture to the legislature, media and public and also to carry out a legal audit of the entire justice system reflecting upon the working of various stakeholders’.
It is established that children who experience sexual abuse can have long-term stress related issues. Families, parents, NGOs, schools and communities can play a pivotal role in preventing abuse; educating children on inappropriate relationships, maintaining healthy boundaries, and through teaching them of their body parts and by informing them on sexual assault. Operation Nirbheek (without fear) was launched by the Delhi north-east division last year to educate children on sexual harassment and abuse. The idea behind the program was to adopt best practices and education programs to create safe environment for children. The police officials initiated interactive sessions with school children to spread awareness. They educated children through a short animated film ‘Komal’ based on the concept of ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch’. In addition, they installed complaint boxes in schools for children to file written complaints. The local police paid weekly visits along with a female constable to address their verbal and written grievances done under the supervision of the Deputy Commissioner of Police. This program was initiated by Veenu Bansal (DCP) and it covered 270 schools of the north east district of Delhi.
We can reduce the risk of child sexual abuse by adopting preventive methods. Children should not be left isolated in one-on-one situations with adults, or encouraged to maintain secrecy. Families should initiate open conversation and take children’s narratives seriously, and educate them on their body safety and sex. Intervene on behalf of the child if you suspect abuse, and look out for emotional and behavioural changes. We must remember that child sexual abuse is an adult issue too and we have responsibility to protect children and safeguard their rights.
Cover image credit: Chris Jones CC BY-NC 2.0
A version of this article originally appeared on WION. It gives the views of the author, and not the position of the South Asia @ LSE blog, nor of the London School of Economics. Please read our comments policy before posting.
About the Authors
Minakshi Das is an LSE alumna working at Zee Media Corporation Lmt. as a Legal Associate (legal, research and media).