Pocso Act: meet calls for taking victim's testimony as chief evidence

Pocso Act: meet calls for taking victim's testimony as chief evidence

 The first-ever national consultation on the implementation of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Pocso) Act, 2012, was held here at the weekend.

Eminent child rights activists, prominent legal practitioners and top government officials deliberated on the best practices for a strong institutional response towards child sexual abuse and its deterrence through amendments to the Pocso Act towards making it more effective and enabling comprehensive legal reforms for institutions supporting the act.

The deliberations had sessions on litigating the Pocso Act, health and child sexual abuse (CSA), perspectives from the judiciary on loopholes in the criminal justice system that prevent swift justice for survivors; strengthening capacity of key stakeholders like police, judiciary, lawyers, medical professionals and counsellors who play crucial roles in response to these crimes.

During the sessions, Rajya Sabha member Rajeev Chandrasekhar said central and state governments must adopt a policy of zero tolerance towards child sexual abuse. He stressed the need to adopt a maximum governance driven strategy to ensure the safety, well-being and development of children.

Some of the prime observations and recommendations were that the Pocso Act has sufficient provisions to protect the interests and rights of child victims. It’s important to effectively implement them instead of pushing for amendments. The increase in reporting of cases under the Act should be welcomed as it is a sign of awareness and a step forward, considering the culture of silence around child sexual abuse. Child pornography, cyber bullying and sexting are challenges and there is a need to have laws and systems in place to deal with them.

Some participants advocated special courts for dealing with matters under the Pocso Act as switching mindsets is tough for the judges and that sessions courts are overburdened. There is a need to minimise the number of times a child has to repeat her statement. The statement under Section 164 of the CrPC should be admitted as chief evidence. It was also recommended for monitoring indicators to assess the utilisation of budgets on child protection and effectiveness of capacity building programmes. There is a need to recognise the link between domestic violence and sexual abuse. The mindset of people has to change and the approach has to be victim-centric.

“There is a need to enable private lawyers to assist the prosecution and address the special courts. Further research is required to understand the psyche of offenders and assess what kind of prevention programmes work. Instead of condemning offenders, their rehabilitation has to be focused upon. Counselling has to be made available to them as well. Restorative justice approach should be considered instead of focusing on punishment. All stakeholders — police, magistrates, child welfare committees, district child protection units, prosecutors, juvenile justice boards, special courts, support persons, district legal service authorities, media and others — should apply the Pocso Act in letter and spirit,” it was recommended at the end of the consultation.

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