The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act is a comprehensive law for the protection of children from offences of sexual harassment. The UN Convention on the Rights of Child was convened in 1989 which the Government of India acceded to in 1992 with the intent to address the evil of sexual exploitation against children which was necessary for safety and security. The Protection of children is guaranteed by the state as its formal duty towards Indian citizens under Article 21 of the Constitution of India – which upholds the right to life and personal liberty.
India lacked dedicated proper legislation for child abuse cases. The cases used to be tried under different provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure (1973), Indian Penal Code, (1860) under sections 375, 354, and 377, and the Juvenile Justice Act. It was found to be ill-equipped with severe drawbacks as it involved too many loopholes which delayed justice for an indefinite period. A legislative reform was introduced in 2012 which was an official law empowered by the Government of India. It was recently amended in 2019 for more stringent action against the crimes.
Analysis of Child Abuse Law
The POCSO Act elaborates on the provision which mentions that any person under the age of 18 years is termed a ‘child’ which sets a gender-neutral tone for the law which enforces equality before the court. The law was set up in a way that makes sure the child’s privacy and confidentiality are upheld by the authority. The judicial process would be under the authority of the Special Courts which ensures speedy trial. Fast Track Special Courts are established for this purpose. Punishments under POCSO are more stringent than IPC for offences against children which include 20 years of imprisonment and the death penalty.
One of the important provisions under the POCSO Act was of prominence in 2018 as the Union Ministry of Law and Justice stated that there is no time limit for reporting abuse that involves a child. The abuse can be said even after years and the necessary action will be taken with access to all the remedies provided under the act.
India’s legal framework for protecting children is considered to be the highest among various countries yet the rate of acquittal is high. Acquittals are significantly more in number than convictions. According to the data published by National Crime Record Bureau in 2021, 95% of the cases accused are known to the child victim which puts reluctance on their part to seek redressal from the authorities for justice. A recent study has found that it takes more than 500 days to dispose of a POCSO case but it has stipulated clearly that it should be done within six months and not more than a year.
The POCSO Act was introduced at a time when there was an increase in cases of child abuse and it has grown gradually over some time but it has seen a peak of pending cases during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the sources, the delay in providing a speedy trial was because of the slow pace of police investigation which is further delayed by providing accurate Forensic samples at a given time. The POCSO courts have not been designated in all districts, 408 POCSO courts have been set up in 28 states as of 2022.
The system for providing immediate justice requires a system that functions efficiently. The Government of India should adhere to a zero-tolerance policy against child abuse. It is important to spread awareness among parents and children to report such incidents which are crucial for taking appropriate measures against such crimes. The safety of a child to grow up in a protective environment is the responsibility of our country.