Child sexual abuse victim dies by suicide, Kerala police and CWC pass the buck

There is some debate about what led the young woman to take the extreme step, given the family said she was also having differences with her fiance in the days preceding her death.
Silhouette of a girl
Silhouette of a girl
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An 18-year-old woman died by suicide in a rented house near Thenhipalam in Malappuram district on January 20, 2022. While there are some reports that suggest that the woman took the fatal step after recent fights with her fiance, a previous note allegedly written by her reveals that she was upset over being insulted and ridiculed by the local police, with whom she had filed several complaints accusing multiple people of sexually abusing her.

The woman is a victim in six cases registered under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. The complaints pertained to abuse that allegedly happened in a span of two years and the accused included the relatives of the deceased too. What was more shocking is that her suicide note, which was revealed two days ago, said that then Circle Inspector of the Feroke police station in Kozhikode district insulted her by calling her sex worker. She also accused him of threatening her fiance. This note was written a few months ago when she had made another suicide attempt.

"CI sir insulted me by calling me a sex worker. He told the people around about the sexual abuse. Now I cannot go out. The accused and the police are responsible for my current situation," she had written in the letter. She also said in the letter that her fiance was assaulted and threatened not to marry her.

The alleged ordeal came to light after the victim opened up to her fiance about the sexual abuse. As per reports, he supported her to complain about it to police. In March 2021, she filed all the complaints, all six were registered under the POCSO Act: one in Kondotty of Malappurama and five in Feroke.

Speaking to the media, her mother said that the young woman had been going through severe mental distress and did not receive any support from the state. The mother said that though she had informed some police officials about her daughter’s precarious state, nobody was ready to help her or provide counselling. She also alleged that the young woman was having issues with the fiance that they had a quarrel over the phone in the last few days preceding her suicide.

Authorities pass the buck

The Inspector of Feroke police station had filed a report with the Child Welfare Committee (CWC), Kozhikode, giving details of the FIR filed based on a complaint filed by the victim on On March 22, 2021. However, the family of the woman has alleged that the CWC did not take any further action on this case, even after they were intimated. The CWC has denied these accusations. "Neither family nor police had asked for help for counselling. The police just gave a general report. We have a proper system to protect and give support to POCSO victims. If we were informed we could have given proper support, " Advocate PM Thomas, CWC Chairperson Kozhikode told TNM.

However, when TNM asked the police in Feroke, they claimed that they had followed all procedures after filing an FIR. "We had given a detailed report to CWC soon after the cases were filed. We have given all details and it is they who have to decide on how to support or move the victim to a shelter," said G Balachandra, the Feroke Station House Officer. Balachandra was the officer who filed chargesheets in the cases. The allegations raised in the suicide note of the victim were against another officer who was in charge before Balachandra took charge.

Child-friendly practices not observed

The Model Guidelines of the POCSO Act state that once the police is informed of the sexual abuse of a child, they have the responsibility “of making urgent arrangements for the care and protection of the child, such as obtaining emergency medical treatment for the child and placing the child in a shelter home, should the need arise.” The police are also mandated to “bring the matter to the attention of the CWC within 24 hours of receiving the report, so the CWC may then proceed where required to make further arrangements for the safety and security of the child.” Chapter 5 of the POCSO Act places a similar responsibility on the police, mandated for officials to get the child medical help as well as shelter, as prescribed, within 24 hours of the report.

The guidelines also acknowledge that the victim is often retraumatised “at the hands of the justice delivery process. A common example is the handling of cases of child victims by unspecialized police, prosecutors, and judges who are not trained in justice for children, children’s rights or how to deal and communicate with victim children and their families.”

Former High Court judge Kemal Pasha told TNM that the present case demonstrates a failure on the part of the police. "A special team with proper training should be investigating such cases under POCSO. They should be trained to deal with sensitive cases. Think about the trauma the woman went through after she heard those words (sex worker)," he said.

Edited by Geetika Mantri

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