Child abuse is always shrouded in silence as victims do not fully understand the crime and they hardly respond to investigations. Silence will now be broken with the enforcement of the act. However, without a cold response from the state government, the act will remain limited only to papers.
States need to designate special courts for taking up cases related to child sexual abuse. Age appropriate information on sexual matters is required to be included in school curriculum. Special public prosecutor should be appointed and special juvenile police units should be established while making the existing child welfare committees and district child protection units functional. Police functionaries and the judiciary at all levels need to be sensitized for effective implementation of the act. The state government has also to formulate schemes for payment of compensation to the child victims of sexual abuse.
Although sexual offences are covered under different sections of IPC, they neither provide for all types of sexual offences against children nor distinguish between adult and child victims. The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 which defines a child as any person below the age of 18 years provides protection of persons at this age group from the offences of sexual assault, sexual harassment and pornography.
Providing stringent punishments as per the gravity of the offence, the act prescribes rigorous imprisonment of varying periods and payment of fines on the part of offenders. More interesting is that an offence is treated as “aggravated” if it is committed by a person in a position of trust or authority, such as a member of security forces, police officer and public servant.
According to the act, offences for penetrative sexual assault will be punishable with imprisonment for a period of seven years to whole life with fine. For aggravated penetrative sexual assault, imprisonment will vary from ten years to whole life along with fine. Offences for sexual assault will be provided imprisonment from three to five years with fine while those for aggravated sexual assault are punishable with imprisonment from five to seven years with fine. Those indulging in sexual harassment of the child will be punished with three years imprisonment with fine and offences for use of children for pornographic purposes will be dealt with five years imprisonment and fine, and in the event of subsequent conviction, seven years and fine.
Incorporating child friendly procedures for reporting, recording of evidence, investigation and trial of offences, the act provides for the establishment of special courts for trial of such offences. Recording the statement of the child should be at the residence of the child or at the place of his choice, preferably by a woman police officer not below the rank of sub-inspector. No child will be detained in the police station during the night for any reason. Police officer should not be in uniform during the recording of the statement. An interpreter or translator or an expert may assist the child during recording of statement, as per the need of the child.
Media is barred from disclosing the identity of the child victim of sexual abuses without the permission of the special court. The punishment for breaching this provision by the media may be imprisonment from six months to one year.
For disabled children, a special educator or interpreter has to assist them during investigations. Parents, guardians or any trusted person needs to be present during medical examination of the victim. Woman doctors will conduct the medical examination on girls. No repeated calls and no aggressive questioning of the child is allowed and trial of cases will be in-camera. The intent or attempt to commit an offence, even if it is unsuccessful will lead to penalization. According to the act, abetment of the offence and commission of the offence are equally punishable. Trafficking of children for sexual purposes will also be covered under this act.
For the more heinous offences of penetrative sexual assault, aggravated penetrative sexual assault, sexual assault and aggravated sexual assault, the burden of proof is shifted on the accused in view of the greater vulnerability and innocence of children. To prevent misuse of the act, punishment has been provided for making false complaint or proving false information with malicious intent.
As per the Act, the evidence of the child will be recorded within a 30 day period and the special court is to complete the trial within one year. As soon as a complaint is lodged to the Special Juvenile Police Unit (SJPU) or local police, immediate arrangements for care and protection of the child will be made by way of admitting him/ her to a shelter home or to the nearest hospital within twenty-four hours of the report. The matter has to be reported to the Child Welfare Committee concerned within 24 hours of the complaint. As per the rules, when a child is taken to a medical facility for emergency care, no magisterial requisition or other documentation may be demanded prior to treatment. Award of compensation related to loss of educational opportunity or employment, disability, disease or pregnancy suffered as a consequence may be awarded at the interim stage as well as upon completion of trial.
The Central and State Governments need to spread awareness through various media at regular intervals to make the general public, children, parents and guardians aware of the provisions of the act. The National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) and State Commissions for the Protection of Child Rights (SCPCRs) are the designated authorities to monitor the implementation of the act. It is a nice opportunity for state governments to take advantage of the new statute so as to minimise the child sexual abuse cases in India.