Juveniles must be given more space for reform in cases where there is delinquency, while there is a need for child-friendly approaches in adjudicating and resolving cases registered under the Juvenile Justice Act and the POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) Act, Justice Ravindra Bhat, Supreme Court judge and Chairperson of the Juvenile Justice Committee, has said.
He was inaugurating the south India regional judicial colloquium on ‘POCSO Act, Juvenile Justice and Drug Abuse among Children’ in the virtual mode on Saturday. Judges from High Courts of south Indian States and judicial officers are among the participants of the two-day event.
Despite legislation to ensure the safety and well-being of children, there is often concern about their proper implementation. There are also issues regarding determination of age and criminalisation of consensual relationships between adolescents. Besides, there are challenges such as non-registration of births and inaccurate dates of birth mentioned in school records in POCSO cases. This gets compounded when medical opinion is inaccurate in determining the age, leaving room for speculation, especially regarding whether 16 to 18-year-olds must be treated as adults in heinous offences. Debates on criminalisation of the relationship also arise in consensual relationships when the “victim” and the “offender” are juveniles. As per the old notion that the girl is the victim and the boy is the guilty party, the boy is thus treated as a child who is in conflict with the law, although the POCSO Act is said to be a gender-neutral law, said Justice Bhat.
Often, provisions for child protection are misused by adults, when a girl’s parents who are against her relationship with a boy misuse the POCSO Act, following which the boy is charged with rape and abduction, imprisoned, put on trial and even convicted. As per a study done in Maharashtra, 25% of POCSO Act cases were regarding romantic relationships, putting undue stress on the over-burdened judicial system. The demand to lower the age of consent from 18 to 16 needs deliberations and action, he added.
On the inadequate infrastructure at many observation homes, where children in conflict with the law after being arrayed in drugs cases are housed or rehabilitated, he said such homes must be a place of love and affection, where emotional and mental needs, safety and security of children were ensured.
Presiding over the function, S. Manikumar, Chief Justice of the Kerala High Court, spoke of how the United Nations Children’s Fund mandated that children be protected from violence, abuse, exploitation, and effects of conflict. India now has a comprehensive law for child victims which takes into account the best interests and well-being of a child. Personnel of probe agencies and medical practitioners ought to be well trained in handling cases under POCSO Act. Even more important is that parents and other elders must ensure proper upbringing of children. They might develop deviant, destructive behaviour, if neglected. They must also be protected from all types of exploitation and must be brought up in a congenial, child-friendly atmosphere, especially since the menace of drug abuse is fast spreading across the globe, including among women and children.
Justice Alexander Thomas and Justice Anu Sivaraman, judges of the Kerala High Court, were among those who spoke at the inaugural session. The two-day colloquium will analyse shortcomings in effective administering of justice to juveniles and children in conflict with the law. The topics covered on Saturday include ‘Furthering a victim-centric justice delivery system for POCSO cases’ and ‘Effective use of forensic science in child-sexual abuse cases’.