Police personnel from across Tamil Nadu are being sensitised on how to deal with crimes concerning minor victims and offenders in a state wide training programme.
The training aims at creating a 'Child Friendly Police Force' in the state.
Keeping in mind the provisions of the Juvenile Justice Act 2015, the UNICEF in coordination with the CB CID has so far trained 1200 sub-inspector level personnel to ensure that crimes by and against children are dealt with sensitively.
The UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund) launched the camp across districts in December 2017 and have staff from only 400 more stations to train before they finish the first round of the programme.
The camps are being held at service training centres of police colleges across the state. So far, 39 batches have been completed in 11 out of 13 ranges in Tamil Nadu. A sub-inspector from every police station, who has the aptitude and interest to work with children is chosen to attend the session which lasts a day. These police personnel will act as Child Welfare officers in their stations.
The training sessions were planned after Supreme Court Justice Madan B Lokur who heads the Juvenile Justice committee in the Supreme Court, conducted a review of the implementation of its provisions in June. He observed that training to ensure correct enforcement of the Juvenile Justice Act and Protection of Children against Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) needed to be carried out.
"Police officers are trained to handle hardened criminals and follow a strict legal procedure - file FIRs, investigate, jail and then take to court. But when it comes to child offenders, they cannot function the same way," says Andrew Sesuraj, a professor from Loyala college who leads the training.
"The Juvenile Justice Act seeks to ensure the best interest of the child prevails. So, they cannot be handled like adults. In the case of an offence by a child, the police have to look at the background of the child and circumstances under which the crime has been committed. We train them to be more sensitive in their approach," he adds.
According to the POCSO Act, the burden of proof when a child is sexually abused is on the criminal. "But most police officers are not aware of this. Vulnerable children are repeatedly questioned and made to relive the trauma they went through. We have thus told these Child welfare officers that in cases of child sexual abuse, conventional methods of interrogation will not work and they need to adopt children friendly techniques," he adds.
In order to help the police understand what has to be done, they are made to take part in games and in role play during the training session.
The trainers then guide them on the process that can be followed in a given situation. They are further given information on all the child protection mechanism at their disposal including the Child Welfare Committee and government homes.
"In addition to this, we also tell them that they need to broaden their minds. Only 1% of the total number of child abuse cases are even brought to the police station. Plus, young boys are hardly ever identified as victims even though a large number of sexual crimes are against them. Boys are not even 5% of the recorded victims," says Andrew. "So, we have equipped the police with an awareness video to take to schools nearby and educate children." he adds.
The trainees are also told to take allegations of stalking or harassment of children seriously, as it could lead to graver crimes.
Police officers who TNM spoke to say that the training programme has had a positive impact on the way they conduct investigations in cases concerning children.
Sharanya, a sub inspector from Kannagi Nagar in Chennai said she has registered three cases under the POCSO act after the programme and has managed to get her victim's statement in all of them.
"While we get training in police academies, we are not told exactly how to engage with children. But after the training I've realised that the conventional approach won't work. So in the latest case of an eight year old girl, I took her out, bought her ice cream and spent some time with her. After building a relationship and gaining her confidence, she began to open up to me," says the sub-inspector. "I also now know that if I have any doubt on how to deal with such a case, I can always consult the UNICEF," she adds.
According to activists and legal experts, such training if carried out on a periodic basis, could go a long way in helping child victims and offenders.
"People have to see the police as not only a force but also as service oriented," says human right activist and lawyer Sudha Ramalingam. "It is not that the police don't want to be sensitive. It is just that they usually don't know how the case has to be handled or don't always have the time to do so. So, such programmes, will go a long way in ensuring positive results in child related cases."