(Representative image)
(Representative image)

HT explainer: No bar for reporting child abuse, the long and short of it

Hindustan Times deconstructs the issue and explains why it is relevant in 2018, six years after POCSO Act came into force and at a time when a movement such as #MeToo is gaining momentum in the country.
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh | By Aneesha Bedi
UPDATED ON OCT 18, 2018 11:57 AM IST

In a development that holds potential to empower adult survivors of child sexual abuse take on their perpetrators years after the crime, the Union ministry of law and justice has ratified a proposal by the women and child development (WCD) ministry to scrap the time limit for reporting child abuse cases. The proposal was mooted in view of the overriding provisions of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act over other criminal laws and the provisions of mandatory reporting in such offences.

Hindustan Times deconstructs the issue and explains why it is relevant in 2018, six years after POCSO Act came into force and at a time when a movement such as #MeToo is gaining momentum in the country and survivors are being questioned as to why they are bringing up tales of their abuse years after the incident.

What it entails?

Section 19 of the POCSO Act, which deals with sexual crimes involving children, lays down the procedure for reporting a crime but doesn’t specify a time limit or statute of limitation for reporting it. The Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) lays down different limits for crimes which carry punishment for a maximum of three years but there is no time bar for crimes that attract a jail term for over three years. With the clarification from the centre, now survivors of child abuse can file a complaint even after they become adults.

What led to the confusion?

Lawyers, especially those specialising in criminal and child abuse cases, called out the ambiguity and inapplicability of the existing laws. The POCSO Act came into force in 2012 and hence, like other criminal laws, isn’t applied retrospectively. Say, at the time of the alleged abuse, during the pre-2012 era, it would fall under Section 376 (rape) of the Indian Penal Code.

Therefore, adult survivors, whose abuse occurred before 2012, faced this dilemma. Manjit Sandhu, a UT-based lawyer and a member of the POCSO panel here, said, “This is exactly why this move was overdue. I feel the same should be made applicable for women in general too who choose to speak up after a certain period of time. We are product of a socio-cultural context at the end of the day.”

What enabled the change?

An Indian-origin Canadian Poornima Govindarajulu gathered the courage to take on her alleged perpetrator four decades after she was abused. Her meeting with WCD minister Maneka Gandhi wherein she requested that the limitations for filing cases of child abuse be removed led to the current move. She also filed a petition with Change.org, a social-change platform, seeking clarity in the POCSO Act.

Why is it relevant?

This is an important move for child abuse survivors, who more often than not are turned away at police stations or during investigation when they gain the courage to report the matter as adults. DSP (women and CSU), Anjitha Chepyala, believes the police investigated such complaints either way, however, explains why it is a welcome move.

“There are cases where children are sexually assaulted by their own family members making it difficult for them to report the matter. Recently, a women said “meri beti toh pagal hai (my daughter is out of her mind)” when the latter claimed that she had been molested by her father,” said the cop, adding that they couldn’t force a victim to file a complaint.

“It is their discretion at the end of the day.”

What will be its impact?

Various studies show that children find it difficult to talk about the abuse the face. Sangita Vardhan, chief welfare committee chief, Chandigarh, said, “This move will enable victims because disclosure of such an incident is very challenging for most victims. It is a common fact that abusers will intimidate and manipulate victims. In many cases, the perpetrators also threaten to harm the child’s loved ones and in many cases the child’s abuser is not a stranger .”

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