The POCSO Act 2012
seeks to protect children from offences such as sexual assault, sexual harassment, and pornography and to safeguard the interest and well-being of children.
There are several salient features of this act like it is a gender-neutral act, defines child as any person below eighteen years of age, provision of medical examination and special courts for speedy justice delivery, mandatory reporting of child sexual offences, criminalizing child sex and child pornography and penalizing provisions, which act as deterrence against possible offences against children.
However, according to NCRB, there is a rise in the number of cases since 2015-16, which shows that there is some deficiency that should be addressed. another major defect of POCSO is its inability to deal with historical cases.
Historical child sexual abuse refers to incidents that are reported late. These cases are reported late because it's hard for a child to report at the earliest time as offences are intrafamilial or related to the institution where they reside.
Once delay in filing cases, it dilutes the efficacy of the prosecution’s case. the major drawback of delayed reporting is the lack of evidence to advance prosecution. As hardly any physical evidence is found in delayed reporting, result is less prosecution.
Another major reason for delayed reporting is, there is a lack of procedural guidance as to how to prosecute historical cases of child sexual abuse in India, unlike the UK where everything is explicitly mentioned.
There is not only a general barrier as mentioned above but also a Legal barrier too. There is a legal barrier against the registration of historical child sexual offences like
- CrPC prohibit judicial magistrates from taking cognisance of cases beyond a specific time period.
- Any reporting of an offence, under Section 354 of the IPC, more than three years after the date of the incident would be barred by the CrPC.
Such a scenario renders historical reporting of child sexual offences which took place before 2012 legally implausible. So, there is need to get rid of above mentioned provisions of CrPC as circumstances around child sexual abuse must not be viewed in the same manner as other criminal offences.
Hence, India needs to review the law in the line with the UN Convention on the rights of children. Today there is an urgent need to reform and revise our laws and expand the scope of the POCSO Act to resolve historical reporting of child sexual abuse and ensure justice.