An Overview of The Protection of Children From Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012
To deal with child sexual abuse cases, the Government has brought in a special law, namely, The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012. The Act has come into force with effect from 14th November, 2012 along with the Rules framed thereunder.
The POCSO Act, 2012 is a comprehensive law to provide for the protection of children from the offences of sexual assault, sexual harassment and pornography, while safeguarding the interests of the child at every stage of the judicial process by incorporating child-friendly mechanisms for reporting, recording of evidence, investigation and speedy trial of offences through designated Special Courts.
The said Act defines a child as any person below eighteen years of age, and defines different forms of sexual abuse, including penetrative and non-penetrative assault, as well as sexual harassment and pornography, and 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 vis-à-vis the child, like a family member, police officer, teacher, or doctor. People who traffick children for sexual purposes are also punishable under the provisions relating to abetment in the said Act. The said Act prescribes stringent punishment graded as per the gravity of the offence, with a maximum term of rigorous imprisonment for life, and fine.
In keeping with the best international child protection standards, the said 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.
The said Act also 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, should the need arise. The police are also 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.
The said Act makes provisions for the medical examination of the child in a manner designed to cause as little distress as possible. The examination is to be carried out 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 said Act provides for Special Courts that conduct the trial in-camera and without revealing the identity of the child, in a child-friendly manner. 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; further, the child is not to be called repeatedly to testify in court and may testify through video-link rather than in a courtroom. Above all, the said Act stipulates that a case of child sexual abuse must be disposed of within one year from the date the offence is reported. It also provides for the Special Court to 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.
The said Act recognises almost every known form of sexual abuse against children as punishable offences, and makes the different agencies of the State, such as the police, judiciary and child protection machinery, collaborators in securing justice for a sexually abused child. Further, by providing for a child-friendly judicial process, the said Act encourages children who have been victims of sexual abuse to report the offence and seek redress for their suffering, as well as to obtain assistance in overcoming their trauma. In time, the said Act will provide a means not only to report and punish those who abuse and exploit the innocence of children, but also prove an effective deterrent in curbing the occurrence of these offences.
The said Act is to be implemented with the active participation of the State Governments. Under Section 39 of the said Act, the State Government is required to frame guidelines for the use of persons including non-governmental organisations, professionals and experts or persons trained in and having knowledge of psychology, social work, physical health, mental health and child development to assist the child at the trial and pre-trial stage.
The said Act of 2012 was amended in 2019 and the offences prescribed in the old Act is replaced with enhanced punishments.