Children are the vulnerable section of the society. They are more susceptible to physical, sexual and psychological abuse. Violence against children is reported every day in different parts of the country. Children are subjected to sexual abuse either in school or in tuition centres or at home. Teachers, tutors, so called uncles and cousins are the perpetrators of most crimes against children. Even religious places are no exception. The recent arrest of a Catholic priest, Robin Vadakkancheril, after a 16-year old girl gave birth to a baby boy not only shocked Kerala but the nation itself. It shows the undue influence the accused had over the victim and her family. Such undue trust can lead to crimes against children.
According to the data released by the State Police Department, Kerala is witnessing an increase in child abuse with every passing year. With a growth of almost 57% in the number of cases registered under POCSO Act from 2013 to 2015, incidents of sexual violence against children have displayed an alarming rate of growth in Kerala. District-wise data shows Malappuram district leads in offences under POCSO.
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According to Kerala State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, many cases go unreported. Only a few parents or victims approach Child line or Child Welfare Committee seeking any action.
The highest number of FIRs has been registered in Rajasthan followed by Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Kerala according to data available with the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR).
Law to Protect Children from Sexual abuse
In order to address the issue of sexual offences against children, the Government of India has taken a significant initiative by enacting a law in 2012, called The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO).
The objectives are to protect the children from various types of sexual offences and to establish Special Court for providing speedy disposal of cases. A ‘child’ under the Act means a person below 18 years of age. The law does not distinguish between boy and girl and therefore this law applies to both
Four authorities established by the Government in a State to protect the rights of children are-Police, Special Police Unit, Child Welfare Committee, Commission for Protection of Child Rights. There is also a National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR). If there is any apprehension of the commission of an offence under the POCSO Act, one should inform the same to any of the above. It can be informed by the victim child or any other person immediately for protection and prevention
On receipt of a complaint, the police has to record the statement of a child. But in no circumstances the statement of a child can be recorded in the police station. The police should record the statement of a child at his/her residence or at a place of his/her choice or at such other places where he/she ordinarily resides. As far as possible it should be recorded by a woman officer not below the rank of a sub inspector. While recording the statement, the police officer should not be in uniform. It is to be noted that the Magistrate cannot record the statement of the child in the absence of any other person. The Magistrate should record the statement of the child in the presence of his/her parents or any other person in whom the child has trust or confidence. The Magistrate may take the assistance of a qualified and experienced interpreter or translator (Section 25)
If the victim is a girl child, a male doctor cannot conduct medical examination of the victim. Such medical examination shall be conducted by a lady doctor in the presence of her parents or any person in whom the child has trust or confidence
If the child has mental or physical disability the Magistrate may take the assistance of a special educator or a person familiar with the manner of communication of the child.
The child victim has the right to take the assistance of a legal practitioner. If the parents or the guardian of the child is unable to afford a legal counsel, the Legal Services Authority shall provide a lawyer.
Responsibility of parents
A close monitoring of child’s activities by the parents is the need of the hour. In many cases where we intervened, we found that the children do not share incidents of sexual abuse with anyone. When a child is under sexual abuse, though he/she knows something negative is happening, she/he is unable to disclose this to anyone. But her/his mood and behavioural pattern changes. Such children will develop certain indifferent behaviour or different behaviour. This is very much noticed with students. When any child whether boy or girl says, “I don’t want to go to tuition, I don’t want to go by that auto, I don’t want that uncle, or shows reluctance, parents should understand that something wrong has happened/happening to the child. In a case where a UKG child was being sexually abused by the auto driver making the boy child sit on his lap while driving him to school and back, the child was unable to understand what the act was, but other boys in second class who were in the auto had to explain to us. However these days whether in city or village, parents have no time for their children. Parents should give special attention to girl children in this regard. In few cases we found, parents went away leaving the girl child with neighbours, uncles, or cousins or driver’s family or family friend and here the child became prey to their sexual passion. A free family atmosphere is very important, where child feels free to disclose all the happenings of the day to the parents, especially to the mother.
Responsibility of Teachers
Educational institutions should protect the rights of children. A teacher in the school also should take care of the character changes of the student. A counsel in each educational institution is advisable to cater to the spiritual and psychological need of the growing child. However no child can be compelled to go for counselling. A woman counsellor is preferable and of course only a woman counsellor can counsel girl children. In some institutions we also found there is a counsellor but without proper qualification. It is unlawful. The counsellor should be qualified in this profession.
Child Welfare Committee
Child Welfare Committee (CWC) is a statutory body under Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000. It is a competent authority to deal with children in need of care and protection (CNCP) and provide for their proper care, treatment, protection, development and rehabilitation.
The role of the Child Welfare Committee is when it receives a report from the Special Juvenile Police unit or the Local Police regarding sexual offences against a child. It is to determine within three days as to whether a child should be taken out of the custody of his family or shared household and placed in a children’s home or shelter home, to take into account the opinion or preference of the child along with the best interest of the child while making this determination, to provide a support person to assist the child during the investigation and trial of the case with the consent of the child or the child’s parent/ guardian/ other person in whom the child has trust or confidence.
Change of mindset, fast trial and deterrent punishment only can reduce sexual offences against children.
(The writer is a Supreme Court Lawyer & President Citizen’s Rights Trust.)#(Published on 20th March 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 12)