“Experience in India shows that while good laws and policies can be adopted by the central government, implementation is frequently a challenge,” states the Human Rights Watch (HRW) report ‘Breaking the Silence – Child Sex Abuse in India,’ that was released on Thursday.
The progress made ten months after India’s first law against child sexual abuse was passed Parliament provides a glimpse into just how massive a challenge implementation actually is.
The Protection of Children from Sexual Offence Act 2012 seeks to protect children against sexual offences, harassment and pornography and carries a life-time jail term for extreme sexual offences. But ten months after it became a law, it appears that even the law enforcement agencies are yet to hear about it.
Speaking to Firstpost on the status of implementation of the Act, Shanta Sinha, the chairperson of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), said: “The Act has just been rolled out and it is too early to make any observations. But having said that, there is a need for greater awareness about the Act because we are receiving complaints that the police are unaware of the Act and so they continuing to refer to the Indian Penal Code.”
(Though sexual offences are covered under IPC, the IPC does not define sexual offences against children and makes no distinction between adult and child victims.)
Commenting on the significance of the Act, Sinha said: “Considering that all courts at the moment deal with adults either as victims or witnesses, I think here for the first time we have a jurisprudence that relates to children as victims and the procedures adopted are to protect child victims and to see that they are not further victimized. It is a very important legislation.” NCPCR has been designated by the Ministry of Women and Child Development to monitor the implementation of the Act.
The Act provides for the formation of Special Courts and Special Juvenile Police Units (SJPU) in order to create a child-friendly procedure for reporting, recording of evidence, investigation and trial of the offences. Here too, the progress after ten months seems anything but encouraging. According to NCPCR, Delhi and Goa have set up Special Courts.
These reforms, if implemented, could go a long way in encouraging registration of complaints. As the HRW report points out, “The criminal justice system, from the time police receives a complaint until trials are completed, needs urgent reform. One problem is the inconsistency in the way the system currently handles cases. Many victims and their families find the whole process extremely intimidating.”
Underlining the importance of effective monitoring of the implementation of the Act, the HRW report in its key recommendations to the Central government states, “Ensure that the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights has sufficient resources to monitor the effectiveness of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act. Appointed members should be experts in child protection and be backed up by effective investigative units. The commission should have an independent capacity for investigations.”
Asked if the NCPCR had been allotted the necessary resources and manpower for monitoring, Sinha said, “We are in fact requesting the government to give us resources. We have flagged the need for more resources. It will come up in the budget for 2013-14. We’ve made a request.”