Rising cases under POCSO Act in Sikkim: A concern
Sikkim has seen a substantial increase in the number of cases registered under the POCSO act of 2012, for the past few days. These might not be new and first of the cases of these kinds but the manner in which the growth is being seen in a state like Sikkim that has relatively smaller population than any other states of the country, this is concerning.
According to the police report, mother of a 16-year-old girl from east district of Sikkim had informed the police that her daughter had gone missing since January 25, 2022. Upon enquiry by the complainant, it was learnt that her minor daughter had eloped with one man and the alleged person had taken the minor girl and kept her at his house for five days. The minor victim girl later revealed to the complainant that during her stay at the alleged person’s house, she had sexual intercourse with the alleged person. A FIR was lodged by the complainant in the police and the accused was booked under section 3 and section 4 of the POSCO act of 2012. The alleged was later arrested by the police and was sent in police custody.
Another case was from south district of Sikkim where a father of a minor daughter had lodged a FIR in the police stating that his minor daughter was sexually molested by her tutor on January 23, 2022. The complainant stated that on January 23, 2022 at around 1729 hours the alleged person took the minor victim to nearby jungle of his residence and molested the victim. Since from that the victim seemed to be mentally traumatized and on January 29, 2022 the victim narrated the entire story about the alleged incident to her parents. The alleged was booked under section 7 and section 8 of the POCSO act of 2012 and was immediately arrested and sent in police custody.
On February 1, 2022, another case was registered by a lady in the police station of east district of Sikkim mentioning that her 16-years-old sister was complaining of a severe stomach ache. Thereafter, the complainant took the minor to the hospital where the doctor informed that the minor was pregnant and the baby was already terminated and only the placenta was left in the stomach. Further, when the complainant asked about the developments, she revealed that she had a physical relationship with a 21 years old boy in a hotel during the month of November 2021. The accused was booked under section 5 (J) (ii) and section 6 of the POCSO act of 2012 and was later arrested and sent in police custody.
These were the cases that were registered under POCSO act of 2012 in the span of just few days. Numerous cases have been registered and trailed in the month of January 2022 alone.
What is the POCSO act of 2012?
POCSO act, whose full form is ‘The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences’, is an act passed by the Indian Parliament in 2012 and received the assent of the President on June 19, 2012. This act was enforced to protect children under the age of eighteen years from offences of sexual assault, sexual harassment and pornography and provide for establishment of Special Courts for trail of such offences and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.
Though the act provides protection to the children of both the genders but according to the report by the Praja Foundation, 94 percent of the total 1,197 cases under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences lodged in 2020, the victims were girls with the highest number of 721 rape cases and 376 sexual assault cases.
The report also found that 42 percent of the total rape cases were committed against children below 18 years in 2020 and the highest number of rape victims were in the age group of 12 to 18 years, 620 out of 721 in 2020, and that in 95 percent of these rape cases under the POCSO Act, the offenders were known to the victims.
Since the Act clearly states in section 2 (1) (d) that ‘Child’ means any person below the age of eighteen years, it is a gender-neutral law and recognizes that boys can be victims of sexual violence as well while the Indian Penal Code does not recognize that sexual assault can be committed on boys.
The flagship feature of the POCSO Act is the mandatory reporting obligation under section 19 of the Act. As accordingly mentioned in section 19 (1) (a) and (b), ‘notwithstanding anything contained in the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, any person, who has the apprehension that an offence under this Act is likely to be committed or has knowledge that such an offence has been committed, he shall provide such information to the Special Juvenile Police Unit or the local police’. The Act not only punishes the perpetrator of the sexual abuse but also clearly mentions that any persons or institutions that fails to report the commission of the sexual offence to a subordinate is liable to be punished and is penalized either with imprisonment or a fine or both.
The offender if proven guilty under trial is punished under different sections of the Act viz, section 4, 6, 8, 10 and 12 depending on the magnitude of the offence. The offenders are punished with imprisonments, fines, life-imprisonments or both.
In 2018, the Union Ministry of Law and Justice clarified that there is no time or age bar for reporting sexual offences under the POCSO Act. This was done keeping in view of the trauma that the victim of the sexual abuse goes through which prevents them from voicing their complaints immediately.
Another important feature of the POCSO Act of 2012 is its section 23 which prohibits the disclosure of the victim’s identity in any form of media, except when permitted by the special courts established under the Act. The Supreme Court in 2018, issued certain directions, reiterating this position, among other things, revealing a POCSO victim’s identity on social media. The violation of which can result in punishments.
Through this act special provisions are also laid for the establishment of Special Courts and ‘child-friendly’ trials to ensure that the victim does not have to go through the trauma of sexual abuse again.