What is the POCSO Act? What are the provisions and features of the act? What is the significance of the act? Read to know more.
The POCSO Act was enacted to protect children from sexual offences.
The Act has been enacted to protect children from offences of sexual assault, sexual harassment and pornography and provide for the establishment of Special Courts for the trial of such offences and related matters and incidents.
The Act was amended in 2019, to make provisions for enhancement of punishments for various offences so as to deter the perpetrators and ensure safety, security and dignified childhood for a child.
POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) Act, 2012
It is defined as “An Act to protect children from offences of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and pornography and provide for the establishment of Special Courts for the trial of such offences and matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.”
It was passed in 2012 under the Ministry of Women and child development.
Provisions of the POCSO act
The POCSO Act was enacted to protect children aged less than 18 from sexual assault sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and pornography.
- The act mandates that investigation in the cases is to be completed in two months (from the date of registration of FIR) and trial in six months.
- The Act defines a child as any person below eighteen years of age.
- POCSO states a sexual assault is to be considered aggravated if –
- The abused child is mentally ill or,
- When the abuse is committed by
- A member of the armed forces or Security forces
- A public servant
- A person in a position of trust or authority of the child, like a family member, police officer, teacher, or doctor or a person-management or staff of a hospital, whether Government or private.
- It prescribes rigorous imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than ten years but which may extend to imprisonment for life and also fine as punishment for aggravated penetrative sexual assault.
- It also makes provisions for avoiding the re-victimization of the child at the hands of the judicial system.
- The Act also makes it mandatory to report such cases. It makes it the legal duty of a person aware of the offence to report the sexual abuse. In case he fails to do so, the person can be punished with six months imprisonment or a fine.
- It also prescribes punishment to the people who traffic children for sexual purposes.
- The Act also provides for punishment against false complaints or untrue information.
- The act was amended in 2019 to increase the minimum punishment from seven years to ten years. It further adds that if a person commits penetrative sexual assault on a child below the age of 16 years, he will be punishable with imprisonment between 20 years to life, with a fine.
- Aggravated penetrative sexual assault under POCSO Act, 2012 is the equivalent provision for aggravated rape.
- A person can be charged with this offence in certain aggravating circumstances, such as if the rape occurs within a relationship of trust or authority, or if it leads to pregnancy, among others.
- Under POCSO, the consent of a person under the age of 18 is irrelevant, regardless of the nature and circumstance of the sexual interaction, or the particulars of the person with whom it takes place. This means that any sex with a minor is rape.
Key features of the Act
It is a gender-neutral act
By defining a child as ‘any person below the age of 18 years, the POCSO Act sets a gender-neutral tone for the legal framework available to child sexual abuse victims. The act also does not distinguish between perpetrators of child sexual abuse on the grounds of gender.
It is an offence to not report an abuse
It requires every person who suspects or has knowledge of a sexual offence being committed against a child to report it to the local police or the Special Juvenile Police Unit. The act not only punishes the perpetrator of sexual abuse but also penalizes those who have failed to report the offence with either imprisonment, a fine, or both.
No time limit for reporting abuse
A victim can report an offence at any time, even several years after the abuse has been committed. Therefore, organizations dealing with children in India cannot deny child sexual abuse complaints filed against their employees on the pretext of lapse of time.
Confidentiality of victim’s identity
Section 23 of the POCSO Act prohibits disclosure of the victim’s identity in any form of media, except when permitted by the special courts established under the act. A violation of this section can attract punishments under the act.
New rules added to the act
- Any institution housing children, or coming in regular contact with them, is required to conduct a periodic police verification and background check of every employee who might interact with a child.
- Such an institution must impart regular training to sensitize its employees on child safety and protection.
- It has to adopt a child protection policy based on the principle of zero tolerance to violence against children. This policy must mirror the child protection policy of the state government in which the organization operates.
General principles of the POCSO Act
The Act mentions 12 key principles which are to be followed by anyone, including the State Governments, the Child Welfare Committee, the Police, the Special Courts, NGOs, or any other professional present during the trial and assisting the child during the trial, which are-
Right to life and survival: A child must be shielded from any kind of physical, psychological, mental, and emotional abuse and neglect
Best interests of the child: The primary consideration must be the harmonious development of the child
Right to be treated with dignity and compassion: Child victims should be treated in a caring and sensitive manner throughout the justice process
Right to be protected from discrimination: The justice process must be transparent and just; irrespective of the child’s cultural, religious, linguistic, or social orientation
Right to special preventive measures: It suggests, that victimized children are more likely to get abused again, thus, preventive measures and training must be given to them for self-protection
Right to be informed: The child victim or witness must be well informed of the legal proceedings
Right to be heard and to express views and concerns: Every child has the right to be heard in respect of matters affecting him/her
Right to effective assistance: financial, legal, counselling, health, social and educational services, physical and psychological recovery services, and other services necessary for the child’s healing must be provided
Right to Privacy: The child’s privacy and identity must be protected at all stages of the pre-trial and trial process
Right to be protected from hardship during the justice process: Secondary victimization or hardships for a child during the justice procedure must be minimized
Right to safety: A child victim must be protected before, during, and after the justice process
Right to compensation: The child victim may be awarded compensation for his/her relief and rehabilitation
Global laws to protect children from sexual harassment
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is an international treaty that legally obligates nations to protect children’s rights.
Articles 34 and 35 of the CRC require states to protect children from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse. This includes outlawing the coercion of a child to perform sexual acts, the prostitution of children, and the exploitation of children in creating pornography. States are also required to prevent the abduction, sale, or trafficking of children.