According to a 2007 survey sponsored by the Government of India’s Ministry of Women and Child Development, 53.22% of children in India face sexual abuse. Out of these, the majority of cases go unreported. Mostly, the offenders are well-known to the children, indicating children’s vulnerability even in supposedly safe places like educational institutions, children’s shelters, etc. The alarmingly rising number of sexual assaults on children has made us focus on the P.O.C.S.O. act, which provides mechanisms for protecting children from sexual assault. Child labourers are another vulnerable group facing a high volume of workplace sexual abuse.
What is P.O.C.S.O. Act 2012?
The Parliament of India enacted the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (P.O.C.S.O.) in 2012 as a legal measure “to protect children from sexual assault, sexual harassment, and pornography and to establish special courts for the trial of such offences.”  amending in 2019.
Before the enactment of this law, there was the usability of various provisions of the I.P.C. (Indian Penal Code) to deal with cases of sexual offences against children. However, due to the lack of proper law, many loopholes allowed perpetrators of sexual violence to go scot-free. In response to these problems, the P.O.C.S.O. Act defines sexual assault against children as all acts of different severity, compromising a child’s autonomy and dignity. The law also enlists a variety of sexual offences against male children, making it more gender-neutral and inclusive.
Importance of P.O.C.S.O. Act in Schools and Workplaces
The P.O.C.S.O. Act is crucial in educational institutions like schools and workplaces where child labour is still rampant despite laws banning it. Even though child labour is outlawed in India, child labourers are one of the most vulnerable sections of society as officials, elders, and employers manipulate and sexually abuse helpless youngsters and children trying to earn their livelihoods. Without support networks, it is almost impossible for them to flee or report the abuse to the authorities. Unable to express their pain, many accept it as a part of their fate and experience lifetime trauma. This dark reality makes it necessary to educate child labourers about the P.O.C.S.O. Act and provide them with a tool to fight sexual exploitation at home and work.
The P.O.C.S.O. Act also highlights the abuse of power in institutions meant for protecting children’s interests, such as schools and juvenile care homes. When a person in a position of trust and authority over children, such as a teacher, staff member, or administration of an educational institution, abuses a child, it makes the sexual assault worse because the protector now becomes the offender. We have to deal very sensitively with such victims as they suffer significant mental trauma and may even lose their ability to trust people after such an incident. The child-friendly and gender-sensitive sections of the P.O.C.S.O. Act intend to prevent the victimisation of the kid throughout the legal proceedings. Further, by minutely listing the various sexual offences and not discriminating between the victim and the perpetrator based on gender, the P.O.C.S.O. act helps create awareness about sexual exploitation in a gender-neutral manner. It also makes not reporting sexual offences against children a punishable offence through a mandatory reporting obligation. Thus, P.O.C.S.O. Act can help create awareness about the sexual exploitation of children and implement practical and concrete measures to curb the same.
Guidelines for the P.O.C.S.O. Act in Schools and Workplaces
P.O.C.S.O. Act At Workplaces
- We can empower children and youngsters working in the unorganised economic sectors by spreading awareness about P.O.C.S.O. Act’s protective provisions.
- We can teach children to recognise and object to inappropriate contact and gestures that make them uncomfortable, even from known relatives, acquaintances, or trusted seniors at work.
- We can try to protect children from sexual abuse at work and home by educating them about legal channels like Special Juvenile Police Units and the process for reporting sexual abuse.
P.O.C.S.O. Act In Schools
To comply with the P.O.C.S.O. Act directives, the Central Board of Secondary Education (C.B.S.E.) has launched several campaigns to raise awareness and curb the sexual exploitation of schoolchildren.
- We have to ensure that teachers, management, and all other staff members of institutions become aware of the P.O.C.S.O. Act’s provisions. As stakeholders, it is our collective responsibility to protect students in light of these provisions.
- It includes our obligation to report child sexual abuse and devise means to take immediate action against such offences. We need to make all school staff members aware of the consequences of failing to report instances of child sexual abuse.
- We need gender-sensitive learning to create awareness about what constitutes child sexual abuse.
- Schools need guidance and counselling facilities about mental health issues among adolescents and children.
- We must constitute internal complaints committees in schools as redressal bodies for complaints of child sexual assault.
- We need to establish a complaint/suggestion box and a toll-free child helpline to help victims voice their trauma and get help from the authorities concerned.
You can find more information in the Handbook on Implementation of P.O.C.S.O. Act, 2012
for School Management and Staff.
Status of Enforcement of the P.O.C.S.O. Act
The P.O.C.S.O. Act came into force on 14 November 2007. A day celebrated as Children’s Day in India. We can accomplish the P.O.C.S.O. Act’s goal of reducing sexual violence against children only if they know their rights, especially the right to live safely and with dignity. There are several challenges in the excellent enforcement of the Act’s directives, including:
- Most states have neither constituted special courts nor appointed special public prosecutors to try cases of child sexual assault.
- Recent controversial rulings in cases involving sexual assaults against children point towards the necessity for “increased sensitisation of judges” to child rights and abuse.
- The low conviction rate in cases is due to family pressure on the victim, fear of public humiliation, lack of evidence, etc.
We live in a nation where seeking justice for sexual assault is still in fear, shame, and secrecy. Frequently, sexual assault on children is not even acknowledged, much less reported. The P.O.C.S.O. act has been crucial in raising awareness and ensuring that more and more victims find their voice and register complaints. It is vital to develop a curriculum for sex education that covers safe sex, good and bad touch and is more attentive to children’s mental health and emotional needs. We will have to make combined efforts as a community of stakeholders to end this culture of shame and silence surrounding sexual offences against children.
|“Handbook on implementing P.O.C.S.O. act, 2012 for school management and staff,” Nic. In. [Online]. Available: https://nipccd.nic.in/file/reports/pocso12.pdf. [Accessed: 09-Jan-2023].
|E. Roy,” 10 years of P.O.C.S.O.: An analysis of India’s landmark child abuse law“, The Indian Express, The Indian Express, 18-Nov-2022.