Former Chief Justice of India and the former Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Justice M N Venkatachaliah shares his thoughts on the implementation of the POCSO Act in an interview with DH’s Anitha Pailoor.
Are there adequate provisions in the POCSO Act to ensure the prevention of the sexual abuse of children?
It is not the question of the adequacy of provisions under the Act or the powers the law gives to the enforcers. It is more a question of the sincerity, competence and dedication of the authorities entrusted with the powers of enforcement. It is not the severity of the punishment, but the certainty of punishment, that deters crime. There must be sensitivity towards, and respect for, the law both in the minds of the members of the public as well as in the minds of the law enforcers. The adequacy of this element is perhaps lacking in both.
Do we need separate provisions to address cases that involve children in the age group of 16-18 years?
This question can arise only when we are able to say we have exhausted the potential of the existing provisions by sincere and professionally competent enforcement.
Why are there reports from survivors about stakeholders showing insensitivity? Aren’t they trained for this?
There seems to be inadequacy in the requisite training and mindset needed for competent enforcement. It is reflecting in the embarrassing failures of the prosecution. The percentage of convictions is dismal. In many cases witnesses for the prosecution have turned hostile. Overall, the degree of seriousness and competence, both in investigation and prosecution, seems to be lacking as evidenced by the large-scale failures of the prosecutions.
Would you suggest any changes in the functioning of the implementation agencies?
What is urgently required is to have and to deploy a team of investigators and prosecutors with due sensitisation and adequate training, as an exclusively dedicated team. The issue is not just one of an ordinary crime. It has civilisational implications. It traumatises the victims, which, in turn, affects their future interactions with the society.
Can you mention some key aspects that are important when it comes to the implementation of the Act?
It seems that magisterial supervision of the process of investigation (for which there are adequate provisions in the law) may improve the quality of investigation. Even under the existing provisions of the law, such supervision of investigation by the magistrate is permissible. The society must itself treat the issue as extremely serious. There seems to be a casual attitude towards this important and very serious issue.