Maha: Only 50% of police, prosecutors are aware about their role under POSCO Act

On May 07, 2018, the first ever statewide research on the status of Implementation of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) law in Maharashtra was released in Mumbai

Maha: Only 50% of police, prosecutors are aware about their role under POSCO Act
Image used for representational purposes only

The study conducted under NGO Prerana’s Aarambh India Initiative highlights the ground realities and challenges faced by Police, Child Welfare Committees, Hospitals, Prosecutors, District Child Protection Units, Juvenile Justice Boards and Non-Governmental Organization across 17 districts in the state, as they work with child victims of sexual offences.

The study highlights that although there is some awareness among the governmental and non-governmental institutions on existing provisions of the POCSO law, the implementation of the same on the ground leaves much to be desired.

Some of the key provisions such as appointing a ‘Support Person’ to assist victims, availability of lady officers for recording the statement of victims, ensuring privacy and confidentiality of  victims are not being implemented in all cases registered under the act.

Dr Pravin Patkar, Co-founder Prerana said, “POCSO Act although in its infancy has made its arrival known very well widely in the state. However, it is time this acquaintance must fast get converted into a deeper and practical competence over POCSO Act. The research findings point out several gaps to be filled and gains to be consolidated.”

He added, “The recommendations of the study should guide the state and the civil society to act in the right direction.”

Dr Pooja Kandula, the research officer who travelled to 17 districts across the state said, “There is immense scope for the implementation of the POCSO Act in spirit at the grassroots level. We met several committed individuals passionate about protecting children in their districts. They work in the most remote areas of Maharashtra in some of the most challenging situations with limited access to resources. The only way we can help them is by investing in them and building the right structures around them.”

Some of the key findings from the study are as follows:

  • In 56% of the rural police stations visited there were no women Police Sub Inspectors (PSI). There was 1 lady PSI between 15 to 25 rural police stations.
  • 53% of the special courts that are designated for cases under the POCSO Act did not have a special public prosecutor.
  • Due to lack of infrastructural facilities and lady doctors at the Primary Health Centers, child victims under POCSO Act are brought to the district level hospitals. Their families are often told by the police to report to the hospital on their own.
  • Police departments influence medical examination by asking for specific findings in certain cases. There is no uniformity in the memos submitted by the police of different districts causing large variation in the medical reports.
  • DNA and forensic labs are located only in metropolises like Mumbai, causing serious delay in receiving medical examination reports of child victims and filing of the charge sheet.
  • 69% hospitals state that it is important to mention the elasticity of the vagina or the hymen status to make an effective medical examination report.
  • 77% Child Welfare Committees (CWCs) who are in charge of care and protection of vulnerable children in the districts do not have a separate room for interacting with child victims of sexual offences.
  • 75% CWCs do not have the full team of 5 members.
  • All the District Child Protection Units (DCPUs) in charge of coordinating Child Protection Activities in a district were understaffed. Not a single DCPU had a full team of 13 members as prescribed under the Integrated Child Protection Scheme.
  • The appointment of the DCPU staff is contractual. Staff salaries are not released on time. Most DCPU members mentioned being highly demotivated.
  • The availability of District Resource Directories which have a list of services and experts for child victims of sexual offences is at its patchy best. Even DCPUs who have the lists have not yet disseminated them among other stakeholders citing the lack of funds for printing.
  • 100% Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) mentioned that they did not receive any official order from the CWC to function as support persons to assist victims and families. Even as they provided support to the victim on their own they were not formally appointed as Support person indicating wastage of a crucially important provision under the POCSO Act Rules.
  • Awareness levels of most of the stakeholders about their roles and responsibilities under the POCSO Act was below 50% (Persecutors 48%, Police 56%, CWCs 43%, Hospitals 43%, DCPUs 34%)