To improve coordination between different agencies and enable better conviction rates, the Standard Operating Procedures for Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012, said to be the first of its kind in the country, was released here on Sunday. Published by the Karnataka State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (KSCPCR), the SOPs (standard operating procedures) tackle issues such as training stakeholders — including the general public, police, forensic personnel, medical professionals and the judiciary — while also advocating child-friendly procedures and practices in investigation and trial, keeping in mind the best interests of the child.
Speaking during the release of the handbook at the High Court of Karnataka, Kripa Amar Alva, former Chairperson of KSCPCR, said the conviction rate under the POCSO Act in the State was between a meagre 15% to 21%.
“The SOPs have been compiled with the objective of ensuring that a uniform protocol is followed and there is better coordination between all stakeholders involved in the implementation of POCSO Act,” she said.
40% vacancy for special public prosecutors
Abhay Shreeniwas Oka, Chief Justice, HC, said that the time had come to audit whether the provisions of this Act have been implemented to its true letter and spirit. He said the SOPs would be beneficial in sensitising stakeholders.
Speaking about the gaps in the implementation of the act, Mr. Oka said, “Section 43 of the POCSO Act that speaks about giving wide publicity to the Act has been overlooked. This has direct connection with Section 19 which provides for a special procedure regarding the reporting of offences under the Act.” He added that training and sensitising Special Public Prosecutors (SPPs) in such cases was very important along with sensitising the police and judiciary.
“If public prosecutors are not trained to argue such cases, they cannot be called special public prosecutors. Also, 40% of SPP posts are vacant in the State posing a challenge,” he said.
Need for designated courts
Justice B.V. Nagaratna, HC judge, citing a recent Supreme Court direction, said that in districts that had more than 100 cases under POCSO Act, an exclusive, designated special court had to be set up, to try on;y these offences. On behalf of the forum, she requested the State government to consider these directions, implement them and help with infrastructure as well.
She also said that as many as 5,142 cases under POCSO Act were registered in Karnataka, and 18 districts had more than 100 cases. “The highest number of cases was found in Bengaluru at 1,135, followed by Bengaluru Rural, Dakshina Kannada, Chikmaglur and Mysuru,” she said.
Emphasising on a sensitive and child-friendly procedure, Suja Sukunaran, of Enfold, said that a lot more had to be done towards speedy trial and investigation of cases under the POCSO Act. “Delay in such cases is extremely traumatising and hence we should follow best practices keeping in mind the interest of the victim,” she said.
Building rapport with victims
Shekar Sheshadri, dean, Department of Behaviour Science, NIMHANS, stressed upon the need to build a rapport with the child to elicit information. “One cannot and should not persuade the child to answer or ask the child to enact the incident. Aggression is seen as it is manifested outside. However, distress of the victim is not explicit,” he added.
S.T. Ramesh, former Director General of Police, said though child sexual abuse was prevalent across class and gender, the criminal justice system was not was doing justice to the victims. “Though shortage of resources is a major constraint, it should not be a reason for inaction. All the stakeholders should develop zero tolerance towards the issue and work in the best interest of the child sitting aside ego and prestige,” he said.