The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, which was passed in May last year to strengthen the legal provisions to protect children from sexual abuse, has been rendered toothless owing to lack of awareness, say experts.
For the effective implementation of the Act, the police should be made aware of the provisions so that they book offenders under the stringent Act, experts said, adding that the public must also be sensitised to the importance of reporting a crime.
“The general public is unaware of the Act as the government is not publicising it adequately. I do not think that just coining an Act would ensure there are no crimes against children. Apart from awareness, what we require is a change of character amongst people as well as the law enforcement agencies,” said Mahesh Jethmalani, a leading criminal lawyer.
Pradip Havnur, another criminal lawyer, said: “If you go through sections 19, 20 and 21 of the Act, they say that all stakeholders in case of an offence — from an eyewitness to a photo studio from where an accused got a child’s obscene picture printed in a case — are legally bound to report the offence to the local police or to any institution that deals with children. And because the Act has not been actively publicised, people are not aware of this duty.”
Former IPs officer-turned-lawyer YP Singh said that 99% of policemen are unaware of the Act and learn about it only when legal advice is sought on criminal cases. No awareness apparatus was put in place despite the fact that the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) and State Commissions for the Protection of Child Rights (SCPCR) were made the designated authorities to monitor the implementation of the Act.
“The NCPCR and SCPCR have to ensure that adequate awareness is created about the Act. However, it is because of the duality of the implementation responsibility that the prudence of the Act gets lost to an extent,” said Singh.
Also, each police station must have a designated counsellor to handle cases of child abuse with sensitivity, the experts said, adding that there should be a provision in the Act that allows an affidavit of the victim’s psychologist/counsellor to be used in court proceedings.