Judging a Decade of the POSCO Act

Judging a Decade of the POSCO Act

News: Ten years have passed since the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012, enacted in consequence to India’s ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1992. 

What is the POSCO Act?
• The Union Ministry of Women and Child Development led the introduction of the POCSO Act in 2012.
• The Act was designed to protect children from sexual assault, sexual harassment and pornography
• It provides for the establishment of Special Courts for the trial of such offenses.
• The Act was amended in 2019 for enhancing the punishments for specific offenses in order to deter abusers and ensure a dignified childhood.

What are issues with POSCO Act?
• Fewer women in Police Force – The POCSO Act provides for recording the statement of the affected child by a woman sub-inspector at the child’s residence or place of choice. But it is practically impossible to comply with this provision due to inadequate women in police force.
• Large part of the investigation of offenses under the Act is still guided by the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC).
• Recording of the statement of the prosecutrix by a judicial magistrate - Judicial magistrates are neither called for cross-examination during trial nor are those who retract their statement punished.
• Though there is a provision to record statements using audio-video means, however, there are still reports of lapses in the investigation and preservation of crime scenes in some cases. In the absence of proper infrastructure to ensure the integrity of electronic evidence, the admissibility of evidence recorded using any audio-video means will always remain a challenge.
• Medical examination of the prosecutrix is conducted according to provisions of the CrPC - The medical examination of a girl child is conducted by a female doctor (as specified in the POCSO Act). There are instances where the banned two-finger test is still in use.
• The age determination of a juvenile delinquent is guided by the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act. No such provision exists under the POCSO Act for juvenile victims.
• In absence of any change in the law or even specific directions the investigating officers (IOs) continue to rely on the date of birth recorded in school admission-withdrawal registers. In most cases, parents (in the absence of hospital or any other authentic records) are not able to defend in the court.
• Age estimation based on medical opinion is wide in scope that in most cases minors are proved to be major. The POCSO Act has made no difference in investigation when it comes to proving juvenility.
• As per the POCSO Act, the investigation of a case under the act is to be completed within a period of one month from the date of the commission of the offence, or from the date of the reporting of the offence. However, in practice, the completion of investigation often takes longer than one month due to various reasons such as lack of adequate resources, delays in obtaining forensic evidence, or the complexity of the case. This can result in delays in the filing of charges and the commencement of trial, which can affect the speed and effectiveness of justice for the victim.

Way Forward:
• The government should provide adequate resources such as funding and personnel to investigating agencies handling POCSO cases.
• Investigating officers should be provided with proper training on the handling of POCSO cases.
• Setting up special courts for POCSO cases can help to ensure that cases are handled promptly and efficiently. This will also help to speed up the trial process, which can be important for the victim and their family.
• The medical examination of a child victim should be conducted as soon as possible after the abuse, in order to establish recent intercourse.
• Raising awareness amongst public regarding POSCO Act and why it matters to report child sexual abuse as early as possible. 
• Improving co-ordination between different agencies such as police, child welfare committees and medical professionals.  

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