Despite the many hurdles faced, by and large public prosecutors in Tamil Nadu have shown a lot of sensitivity when it comes to cases under the POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) Act, 2012, as everyone has the protection of children in mind, said Justice P. N. Prakash, Judge, Madras High Court and Chair, POCSO and Juvenile Justice Committee.
Justice Prakash was speaking at the inauguration of a ‘Competency Enhancement Training to Prosecute POCSO cases’ session for Special Public Prosecutors (SPPs) POCSO Courts, Additional POCSO Courts, Juvenile Justice Boards as well as deputy and assistant directors of prosecution in Tamil Nadu, organised by an NGO, Tulir - Centre for the Prevention and Healing of Child Sexual Abuse, in Chennai on Wednesday.
Speaking about cases of child sexual abuse, Justice Prakash said that the pandemic and post-pandemic time has completely changed the landscape of this offence and that the statistics were appalling. “I am told, however, that this has always been there and out of modesty, shame or fear, they might not want to come out with it. This is a patriarchal, moralistic and feudalistic society,” he said, speaking about how most girls would have at least one instance to share about abuse.
Justice Prakash further spoke about how the society, and the system that the public prosecutors were working in, often had scant regard for the truth and that this became doubly challenging when it came to dealing with cases involving children below the age of 18. “Amidst all these hurdles, the prosecutors are working well. While there is also a gap between what is being done, and what actually needs to be implemented, the POCSO Committee as well as NGOs are working towards bridging it,” he added.
Among the topics covered at the training program were ‘Understanding the dynamics of Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) and the impact of CSA on child witnesses’, ‘Child development and its relevance to enabling witnesses provide robust testimony’ and ‘Appreciation of Medical Evidence’.
Significance of medical evidence
“It is important that the participants are told about how medical evidence needs to be appreciated, and about case laws pertaining to the POCSO Act that are relevant. At the same time, in furtherance of this training, there needs to be an integrated training of multiple stakeholders,” said Swagata Raha, Director, Research, Enfold Proactive Health Trust, Bengaluru, who was one of the speakers at the training programme.
“The implementation of the POCSO Act requires people to work together, and we need to bring public prosecutors, along with Child Welfare Committees, judges, and the police so that they are able to understand how everyone can work together to ensure effective prosecution and rehabilitation of child survivors,” she added.
Geetha Ramaseshan, advocate, Madras High Court and trustee, Tulir said that while the POCSO Act is a very empowering legislation, it is also a tough legislation with new provisions that have made major inroads into laws such as culpable mental state, mandatory reporting, and changing the onus on burden of proof. “A great responsibility rests with prosecutors to sift the evidence in a strong way and not just leave it to whatever is being handed over by the investigative authorities. I believe that thus, your duty assumes great significance,” she said, addressing the participants.