PUDUCHERRY, India—India is taking steps to create a more nurturing criminal justice system to help child victims of abuse testify. Child abuse has often gone unpunished in India, but in the past year the government has introduced tougher penalties and laws that encourage people to report abuse.
While stepping in the right direction, the justice system is still struggling to find a foothold, to really put the principles into action.
“One of the main reasons sexual offenders against children used to escape was that children [who are victims] could not cope with facing the criminal justice system,” said Anant Kumar Asthana, a child rights lawyer practicing in the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court of India.
The recent acquittal of a 45-year-old man accused of raping a 5-year-old girl nine years ago shook Indian civil society. The accused was identified by the child in court, but was acquitted because the child couldn’t answer questions in a cross-examination in the court.
The Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses (POSCO) Act 2012 went into effect in November 2012. Asthana listed the two most significant accomplishments of the law, “[Firstly,] It has made not reporting sexual offenses against children a punishable offense, and [secondly,] it has defined several sexual acts as criminal offenses, which were not there in any penal law before.”
While people have started filing POSCO cases around the country, the first convictions under the Act have just started to come out.
Another main feature of the law is the mandated creation of child-friendly courts, processes, and procedures. In these, explained Asthana, an effort is made to understand and address the vulnerabilities of children. According to media reports, police chiefs in several states have started issuing orders that cases registered under POCSO can be tried in children’s court.
While praising the Act, children’s advocates say implementation remains a challenge.
Ranganathan Manohar, a program director for the South India Cell for Human Rights Education and Monitoring, said coordination between government departments will be important. He also noted that “Child rights activists, physiologists, and others need to be constantly contacted and consulted.”
Asthana gave an example of where the infrastructure is lacking to meet the requirements of the Act. POSCO requires a female police officer record the statements of a child victim, but with the current number of women on the force, it is difficult to arrange.
“Implementation of the POCSO Act is at a nascent stage in our country,” Asthana said. “Police have responded comparatively better to this Act, and that is why we see so many cases being registered by the Police. But other concerned authorities [such as judiciary officials and officials from various government departments] are still in the process of responding to the requirements of this Act.”
To bring cooperation among all agencies and stakeholders on implementing the Act, a POSCO conference was held in New Dehli on Tuesday by the Indian Ministry for Women and Child Development.
Minister for Women and Child Development Krishna Tirath stressed the need to introduce the Act in the school curriculum. “Children must be educated about its provisions,” she said in a release.
Many children’s advocates focus on police training, since police are the major players in implementing the Act. Manohar said, “Specific training using child rights activists and medical experts needs to be done for the police who will deal with children while recording statements on audio and video.”
He said the Act needs to be further disseminated in various languages to all concerned, especially the judiciary, police, child groups, and parents.