Enact a POCSO-like Law to address Child Sexual Abuse in Jammu & Kashmir
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Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) is the least spoken subject in a conservative society like Jammu & Kashmir (J&K). CSA is spreading like an epidemic in J&K; hence, there has been a consolidated effort by a group of victims and survivors to raise awareness about CSA and the role of parents and schools in preventing CSA, via social media, for almost 2 years.
According to a study conducted by the Ministry of Women and Child Development in 2007, 1 in every 2 children is subjected to sexual abuse in one or more forms, before they reach the age of 18. There are no reliable statistics available on CSA in Jammu & Kashmir. Although there is enough evidence that CSA happens in our homes, schools and religious institutions, most people deny the occurrence of CSA in J&K.
Despite the fear and social stigma attributed to CSA, there have been several cases where victims/survivors gathered courage and spoke up against their abusers. However, in every single case the delay in the proceedings has been unbearable and very discouraging for the victims. For instance, in February 2016, a teacher was convicted for 10 years in prison after he was proven guilty of having raped a class 9 student. This was only possible because of the patience and perseverance shown by the 14-year-old girl and her widowed mother, who kept fighting for justice for over two years.
In another case related to mass CSA, a self-proclaimed Faith Healer is currently facing a trial in the Chief Judicial Magistrate’s Court of Sopore, District Baramulla. Although 8 victims recorded their statements in front of the CJM Sopore in March 2016, it took more than 1 and a half years for the pre-charge trial to be concluded in October 2017. The accused is out on bail, allowing him to continue his abuse under the disguise of faith healing.
The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012 was enacted by the Parliament in order to deal with the menace of CSA in India. The objective, as stated in the preamble of the Act, is “to protect children from offences of sexual assault, sexual harassment and pornography, and provide for the establishment of Special Courts for trial of such offences and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.” However, the law is not applicable to the State of Jammu & Kashmir. An unfortunate consequence of this is that the State of Jammu & Kashmir is left without any effective socio-psycho-legal response to CSA cases. The current criminal law, which is used to deal with such cases and which is offender-oriented, is not sufficient to effectively deal with cases of sexual abuse against children. We need a POCSO-like law in J&K specifically for the following reasons:
- The provisions of current criminal law, which are invoked to deal with a CSA case, do not cover all forms of Child Sexual Abuse.
- POCSO Act provides for establishing special courts and special public prosecutor to deal with CSA cases. This is not available to victims of CSA in J&K.
- The current criminal law is offender-oriented and the interaction of the victim with the criminal justice system therefore happens in a very volatile environment, which can possibly lead to re-victimization. POCSO Act provides an empathetic and victim-oriented approach to administration of justice in CSA cases.
- The current criminal law doesn’t provide for rehabilitation of victims; particularly, when the offender is a family member or a close relative.
- POCSO Act shifts the burden of proof on the defendant. Unlike current criminal law, where the defendant is presumed ‘innocent until proven guilty’, POCSO Act presumes defendant to be “guilty until proven innocent.”
- POCSO Act requires mandatory reporting of CSA upon certain individuals and institutions.
- POCSO Act requires the treatment of a CSA victim as a “child in need of care and protection” under the Juvenile Justice Act, and mandates the involvement of Child Welfare Board in such cases.
- POCSO Act also requires time-bound (12 months) disposal of CSA cases.
In a recent interview about the mass rape of children in Kashmir, Anant Asthana, a child rights' activist and advocate based in Delhi said, “a special law like POCSO is the need of the hour in Jammu and Kashmir to help child victims of sexual offences in availing support from authorities, immediate compensation and a stringent criminal justice system for speedy trial."
According to Hakim Yasir Abbas, an Associate Professor at School of Law, University of Kashmir, “Jammu and Kashmir needs a law on the lines similar to POCSO. However, the state has an opportunity to create a better version of the same because while POCSO is a comprehensive law, it still has some loopholes. For example, the definition of child only considers the biological age of the victim and not his mental age. Therefore, a person after attaining the age of 18 years will not be covered by this law even if such person continues to remain a child mentally.”
A strong POCSO-like law in J&K will not only encourage the victims of CSA to come forward and seek help but also ensure speedy trial in such cases. Moreover, the law will act as a strong deterrent in preventing child abusers and paedophiles from further abusing children sexually.
Please sign my petition and help me in highlighting this issue and convince Government of Jammu & Kashmir to enact this very important law for the prevention of Child Sexual Abuse.
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