Maharashtra authorities lack awareness on child-friendly provisions in POCSO Act, finds study by two non-profits

Mumbai: More than half (53 percent) of the special courts constituted to try sexual offences against children did not have special public prosecutors and 56 percent of rural police stations did not have women sub-inspectors, according to a survey conducted across 17 districts in Maharashtra. Further, 64 percent of rural police stations surveyed did not have separate rooms to provide privacy to the victim and only one police officer from every police station was trained in the Protection Of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. The report, put together by Prerana and Aarambh, two non-profits working in the area of child rights, was released in Mumbai on Monday and highlighted the deep flaws and gaps in the implementation of the POCSO Act.

Even as the central government has brought out an ordinance that says the death penalty can be awarded to those convicted of raping minors below the age of 12, reports such as this one suggest that the basic frameworks to ensure justice for children are weak and disorganised. Though the state has moved towards increased punitive action, the system is barely in place.

“There is no point in increasing the severity of the punishment when the basic things are lacking,” said Pravin Patkar, co-founder and director of Prerana, who led the study. “Fundamental mechanisms are not in place, people don’t know their own or others’ responsibilities. Then how can you expect redressal?”

 Maharashtra authorities lack awareness on child-friendly provisions in POCSO Act, finds study by two non-profits

A protest against child sexual abuse. File image. Reuters

The study was conducted to examine the functioning of the POCSO Act that was passed in 2012 to specifically deal with sexual offences against children. Data was collected over 2016 and 2017 and involved collating responses from 147 respondents across seven categories: the police, hospitals, child protection units, juvenile justice boards, public prosecutors, non-profits and child welfare committees. “The lack of convergence between the systems and the stakeholders was shocking,” said Patkar.

The researchers awarded “awareness scores” to each group – an indication of their familiarity with the law and their responsibilities based on a series of questions – and scores across all categories of respondents were largely poor. For example, the police average was 56 percent, for prosecutors it was 48 percent, for child welfare committees it was 43 percent. District child protection units (DCPUs) – bodies tasked with overseeing and implementing various child protection schemes and laws – scored among the worst, with 34 percent. “On the background of the fact that the DCPU is expected to be a crucial agency meant to facilitate better co-ordination amongst the various duty bearer agencies under the POCSO Act, the current awareness level is dismal,” the report noted.

Of the 14 doctors surveyed from government hospitals that prepare medical reports in assault cases, 39 percent said they still conducted the forbidden “two-finger test”. They said it was necessary to determine vaginal injuries. And 69 percent said it was important to mention the elasticity of the vagina or the status of the hymen in their reports, remarks that could easily be exploited by defence lawyers during the trial to impugn the character of the victim.

Pravin Ghuge, the chairperson of the Maharashtra State Commission for Protection of Child Rights who was present for the release of the report said these constituted “valuable findings for the work of the commission”. “We will look into how to take this forward,” he said.

The report also contained recommendations for each of the different categories of respondents, and also for the state in general, with a focus on proper training. “Training is happening but the impact is very poor,” said Patkar. “Training needs to be seriously audited and accredited and minimum standards need to be inculcated.”

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Updated Date: May 07, 2018 18:34:25 IST