POCSO Act: Survivors’ needs come first

Hyper-focused on punishing the accused, stakeholders often push the needs of survivors to the backseat.

Published: 21st November 2022 06:18 AM  |   Last Updated: 21st November 2022 06:18 AM   |  A+A-

Sex education

Image used for representational purposes only. (Photo | Sourav Roy, Express Illustrations)

Express News Service

CHENNAI:  In November 2012, when a special law was passed to deal with cases of child sexual abuse, it held the promise of reforms. A decade later, various stakeholders still lack a thorough understanding of The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO), Act, and have a lot to learn. 

Hyper-focused on punishing the accused, stakeholders often push the needs of survivors to the backseat. As per sections of the Act, when a minor pregnant girl consults a doctor, the latter must first inform law-enforcement authorities. “In reality, the doctors tell the family to approach the police first.

This scares the victim and prevents them from accessing medical assistance. Especially in cases of abortion, some doctors talk of it as a taboo despite the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (MTP Act) allowing for it, and recent Supreme Court directions that protects healtcare providers from action if the survivor and guardian do not wish to register a police case,” said M Andrew Sesuraj, State convener, TN Child Rights Watch.

Experts say the fundamental issue is the mindset of the various agencies, and needs of survivors must be kept in mind. Swift compensation might help the survivor pursue their studies or shift to a new place, opined Advocate N Lalitha, also a member of the Chennai North district Child Welfare Committee. “But, now only compensation for cases filed last year is being released,” she added. 

AWPS play a crucial role in cases dealing with sexual violence against children. While senior police officers claim the AWPS personnel are not deployed for other work, they are often pulled in for bandobast duties. This diversion makes it harder for them to focus on the investigation. A delay in the process often benefits the perpetrators who receive time to influence the witnesses to turn hostile during the trial.

There is a need for a change in mindset in society, emphasises Sherin Bosko, a psychosocial expert working with the 181 women’s helpline. Recalling a 2014 case in which a 14-year-old girl was impregnated by a minor, both families wanted to get them married. “When I spoke to the girl, she was scared of the boy. With intervention, the family was convinced to allow her to continue her studies. She then finished college, and is happy,” said Bosko.

The POCSO Act, which seeks to protect children from sexual abuse, fails to take cognisance of mutual romance among teenagers. Sannuthi, a Program Coordinator at Tulir - Centre for the Prevention and Healing of Child Sexual Abuse, points out it is natural for adolescents to explore sexuality. It is time for the law to accommodate the nuances of this development period, she added.

“For protection from sexual offences, a nuanced law is not enough. Young people need to be engaged in conversations about sexuality, personal safety,” said Vidya Reddy, founder, and director of Tulir.
(This is the concluding part on the POCSO Act a decade after it was introduced) 


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