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TNN | Apr 24, 2014, 03.27 AM IST
While the law puts the onus to report cases of abuse on citizens it takes care to ensure no false complaints are filed, feels Emidio Pinho
The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, came into force on November 14, 2012. This Act has strengthened the legal provisions for the protection of children from sexual abuse and exploitation. It has been passed to address issues of sexual offences against children in India.
The Act clearly defines a child as a person below the age of 18 years and provides protection from sexual assault, sexual harassment and pornography. The Act provides for stringent punishments, which have been graded as per the gravity of the offence. It incorporates child friendly mechanisms for reporting, recording of child statement, investigation during trial.
Section 21(1) of the Act, requires mandatory reporting of cases of child sexual abuse, hence the onus is on citizens, that is parents, doctors and school personnel to report cases to the law enforcement authorities. Failure to report a suspicion of child abuse is an offence under the Act and attracts legal action. What is reassuring is this provision also focuses on police personnel who refuse to register child abuse cases.
The legislation makes it clear that the reporting of child abuse is mandatory and does not accord any exception even if the said information was acquired through the discharge of professional duties or within a confidential relationship. Any person who fails to report suspected child abuse, having acquired the information in the discharge of his or her professional responsibilities, and does not report to police commits an offence.
Similarly, Section 21 (2) of the Act provides for greater punishment for person/s in-charge of any company or an institution for failure to report child abuse cases to the police. Management of children's homes, shelter home, day care and night care institution, school personnel, doctors, personnel from media and other professionals who may, in the course of delivering services, receive information which causes them to suspect that a child has been sexually abused, must mandatorily report such information to the police. The obligation to report is unrestricted by any pre-condition that the complaint be first reported within the respective departments, services or agencies, even if the perpetrator is alleged to be an employee of that institution, service or agency. Thus, a person who has knowledge that an offence has been committed on a child can directly report it to the police or magistrate.
From the reading of Section 21, two objectives can be derived; 1) To identify child victims of sexual abuse and to prevent them from coming to further harm 2) The perpetrator is booked and is prevented from harming other children. Without detection, reporting and intervention, these children may remain victims for the rest of their lives, carrying scars of abuse throughout their lives and even, in some cases, repeating the pattern of abuse. This is why the law provides for mandatory reporting, placing the responsibility to report not on the child but on surrounding adults who may be in a better position to help.
However the POCSO Act does not lay down that a mandatory reporter has the obligation to inform the child and/ or his/her parents or guardian about his/her duty to report. I feel it is good practice to let the family of the child know prior to reporting of the offence. In cases where the parent/s are the perpetrators it will not be necessary to report the matter to the family by the reporter.
According to the law, a report of sexual abuse should be in writing and duly signed. It should contain information like name, age, address and telephone number of the child. The nature and extent of the child's abuse also needs to be specified. The identity of the person or persons responsible for the abuse or neglect to the child also needs to be mentioned in the written report.
Failure to report cases of child abuse provides criminal action. Section 21(1) states that any person, who fails to report the commission of an offence or who fails to record such offence shall be punished with imprisonment of either description which may extend to six months or with fine or with both. Those running institutions have greater punishment which may extend to one year or with fine or with both.
An interesting aspect of the POCSO Act, 2012, is that it makes it an offence to report false information, when such a report is made other than in good faith. The Act states that any person, who makes false complaint or provides false information against any person, in respect of an offence committed under sections, solely with the intention to humiliate, extort or threaten or defame him, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months or with fine or with both. Where such information is provided against a child, the punishment may extend to one year.