Author: Vipul Yash
On 26-27 November 2022, Protsahan India Foundation was invited by the Hon’ble Guwahati High Court to the “State Level Consultation on Implementation of the POCSO Act, 2012” for the States of Assam, Nagaland, Mizoram & Arunachal Pradesh. The Juvenile Justice Committee of Hon’ble Guwahati High Court organised this consultation in collaboration with the Department of Women and Child Development, Government of Assam, and UNICEF, Assam.
The consultation consisted of two days with day one (1) comprising 4 technical sessions and day two (2) comprising a panel discussion and State presentation made by POCSO stakeholders of Assam, Nagaland, Mizoram & Arunachal Pradesh.
The four (4) technical sessions on the 1st day comprised the followings:
- Prevention, rehabilitation, and reintegration of POCSO survivors.
- Child-friendly procedures during prosecution of POCSO survivors.
- Investigation of cases in the spirit of POCSO Cases.
- Capacity building of duty bearers/ functionaries & stakeholders.
Protsahan was invited as a resource person for the 2nd technical session on ‘child-friendly procedures during the prosecution of POCSO survivors. As 2022, marked the decade since the launch of the POCSO Act 2012, Protsahan released a 10 year statistical analysis report on POCSO. The title of the report is “Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012 – 10 Year Analysis of NCRB Data on Sexual Crimes Against Children (2012-2022)”. The report presents a systemic review of select data from the National Crime Record Bureau’s (NCRB) Crimes in India Report from 2012 to 2022. It analyses the Government provided statistics on POCSO, from the point of the case being reported to the point of final acquittal or conviction. The study reflected a high pendency rate and yearly increase in sexual offences against children.
In Protsahan’s session for ‘child-friendly procedures for the prosecution of POCSO survivors, we highlighted the child-friendly aspects at every stage of the prosecution. We stressed the importance of a vulnerable witness deposition complex for the recording of evidence of a child. Various protocols that need to be adhered to when a child enters the judicial system were discussed. The crux of our presentation was despite all forms of infrastructural upgradations being necessary, instilling child-friendly attitudes among various stakeholders during prosecution is of pivotal importance. For securing this change in attitude, a regular and more importantly systemic sensitisation program needs to be formulated. More brainstorming is required for ascertaining efficient forms of sensitisation which can get us the desired result in the least amount of time.
All 4 technical sessions covered the essential aspects of POCSO and how its applicability can be made much more efficient. Every session began with inputs and structuring of the session by the resource person and was followed by an in-depth group discussion which comprised of various POCSO stakeholders (POCSO judges, CWC members, DCPU, support persons, etc), High Court Judges & different resource persons.
MEDICAL EXAMINATION – SENSITISATION AND CAPACITY BUILDING
Several insights were derived from the technical sessions. One very poignant finding from the session was the extreme lack of sensitisation of medical officers who conduct the medical examination of the survivor. The complexities of medical examination and the structural inability to keep the medical examination child-friendly were discussed. Doctors who conduct the examination have a severe workload in which they have to accommodate the medical examination of a POCSO survivor as and when they come by. The child, after the abuse has taken place, is the most vulnerable during the medical examination. But the doctors have to conduct the examination in a very rushed manner as they have to submit the report in 24 hours. This very critical stage of the investigation needs to become as child friendly as possible. All four (4) states participating agreed that there is no provision in place for making the medical examination child-friendly but agreed on the fact that something needs to be done in this regard.
STAKEHOLDER SENSITISATION ACROSS THE BOARD
Apart from the medical examination, one major takeaway from day 1 was the need for increased capacity building across the board among various stakeholders. Lack of sensitisation or less intervention for sensitisation was considered to be a major cause due to which the principle of the best interest of the child was not applied in its letter and spirit. Renewed commitment to sensitisation was stressed to make the procedures under POCSO child friendly. On the second day, (2nd day) of the consultation, Mr. Alo Libang, Hon’ble Minister of Women and Child Development, Arunachal Pradesh also highlighted the necessity of POCSO awareness and sensitisation in the North Eastern States. One measure for increased awareness and sensitisation, that came up on both days was making POCSO a part of the schooling system. The rationale behind this was awareness building of children and people who are around children for an extended period of time.
RESOURCE CRUNCH FOR IMPLEMENTATION OF POCSO
An important point raised by the stakeholders on day one (1) was the extreme resource crunch for implementing POCSO in its letter and spirit. The High Court Justices empathised with this problem and a few suggestions were made to make the system efficient despite the lack of resources. Firstly, various NGOs can be identified which are experts in the legal and psychosocial implementation of POCSO, and be readily available on call for the POCSO functionaries. This will aid in getting clarity on a point of contention in a timely fashion. Secondly, a checklist for various stakeholders could be developed for making clear the expectations from each one of them.
The second day of the consultation had several expert talks followed by a panel discussion and presentation by the four (4) states.
AGE OF CONSENT – ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS
Ms. Swagata Raha from Enfold made a critical presentation on ‘romantic relationships under POCSO’. According to the study, 24% of all POCSO cases in Assam came within the category of ‘romantic relationships’ and for such cases, the acquittal rate stood at 94%. It was suggested that the legislation needs to decriminalise consensual relationships between the ages of 16 & 18. It was informed that in ‘romantic cases’ the police complaints were made predominantly by the girl’s family when she eloped with her partner or married him. The rate of non-consensual sexual acts and any form of oppressive behaviour was found to be minuscule in such cases.
Other than this, there were several discussions on the psychological impact of crimes on a survivor. It was stressed that comprehensive psychological care is required to put the survivor on a path to complete recovery. Effective psychological counselling required proper sensitisation and training of counsellors which will enable them to support the child better.
The States informed the participants of where they stood vis-a-vis making the process child friendly. While most of the states were on their way to becoming infrastructurally sound for a child-friendly process to take place, the lack of well-trained professionals and few blindspots, like making the medical examination child-friendly remained a point of concern.
The consultation closed with a renewed commitment from all child protection stakeholders to come up with creative ideas to streamline and make the process of justice for a vulnerable child more efficient and child friendly. The stakeholders understood the tall task ahead of them, especially in a country like India with a population of 1.3 billion and 350 million children, and how they would need to go above and beyond at times to keep the spirit of POCSO alive i.e. “Paramountcy of Best Interest of the Child”.