The police have started handholding and assisting children and families to avail their rights as survivors of sexual abuse.

A police officer bending down to speak to a small boyImage for representation. Photo by Manu Vishal/Picxy
news Child rights Thursday, July 14, 2022 - 15:08

Late last month, Ramya (name changed), a daily wage worker, returned home at night to a horrifying scene. Her 16-year-old daughter was crying and had broken teeth. “She was very scared, and could not initially explain what happened,” Ramya tells TNM. Since Ramya’s daughter is non-verbal, “later, she told me through actions and gestures that she had been sexually assaulted,” says the single parent of two. According to the police, Ramya’s daughter was assaulted by two persons – a minor and a 19-year-old man, who entered the house through the window, knowing that the girl was alone.

The next day, Ramya and her daughter went to the police station to report the crime. And while many who go to the police with sexual assault complaints report not having the best experiences with the police, Ramya and her daughter recount the opposite. They were made aware of their rights, and a preliminary assessment of the survivor was done by the police to send to the Child Welfare Committee (CWC). “The police were very helpful from the start. They brought an interpreter who communicated with my daughter in a way that she understands, and later, they took her to the hospital as well. They also got us food and helped write petitions to apply for the interim compensation,” Ramya says. “Today, they are about to take me to the social welfare office and police station for further proceedings.” There are also provisions being made for the 16-year-old to be enrolled into a special school for deaf persons in Usilampatti from next month.

Ramya’s experience – and that of many others who have reported child sexual abuse in certain districts of Tamil Nadu in the past month – is a result of a shift in focus among the police towards the rehabilitation of survivors. This happened after Asra Garg, the south zone Inspector General of Police, pushed for looking at crimes under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act more comprehensively. “Not just from the point of arrest and putting the accused behind bars, but also in a way we can contribute towards the psychological, physical and mental health of the survivors,” Asra Garg tells TNM. “The POCSO Rules are there, as are the constitutional courts, to guide us. The government has also been directing us to handle POCSO cases in a humane way,” he adds.

Pravin Dongare, the Superintendent of Police in Theni, says that, directed by the South Zone IG, some of the officials got together to study the POCSO Act and POCSO Rules. “We studied these, and prepared an SOP because we realised that as of now, the police are mostly aware of the investigative part of the job. However, under the new method, the Investigating Officer (IO) immediately gives Form A to the child and the family, and we fill out and submit Form B to the CWC within 24 hours. We also tend to emergency needs like food, clothes, and transport,” he explains.

Form A and Form B comprise two documents detailing the entitlements and rights of the survivor, and a preliminary assessment of the child, respectively. Form A details that children/complainants are entitled to receive a copy of the FIR, protection from the police, free medical examination, free legal aid, recording of the statement of the child by a woman officer at home, have an interpreter where needed, etc. Form B is put together by the police using information like age of the victim, relationship with the offender, whether the child has a disability, whether there has been a loss of educational opportunities due to the crime, economic status of the survivor’s parents and their occupation. Form B is sent to the CWC so that the latter, and the District Child Protection Unit (DCPU) when required, can provide resources – like a special educator, interpreter, etc.

“Apart from the two forms, the other thing IOs were not aware of was interim compensation. Most thought that the compensation would only come when the case is in trial or has ended,” says Pravin. The POCSO Rules empower courts to award interim compensation in cases where immediate relief and rehabilitation are deemed fit. “We help the survivors and their families file this application and submit it to the courts within 48 hours of the complaint,” Pravin says.

The interim compensation is crucial in cases where the child comes from economically poor or marginalised backgrounds. For instance, in a case in Tirunelveli, a church pastor is accused of sexually abusing multiple children. Ruby (name changed), a homemaker married to a daily wage worker and mother to three children who were among those sexually abused by the pastor, tells TNM that the inspector who handled their case was a source of significant support when they reported the crime. “They (police) took us for a medical examination. The inspector told us that she will be there with us till the end. In the hospital, throughout all the check-ups, she and her team were with us. She told us that she will also help us get financial aid since we are struggling. She also asked us to reach out if we needed help with the children’s education. She also said that counselling services can be availed for the kids,” Ruby says. “If not for police support, the rest of the village residents wouldn’t have let us lodge the complaint, and would have supported the pastor,” she adds.

In another case, where a seven-year-old sexual abuse survivor also sustained 75% burns after her offender set her ablaze after assaulting her, the Theni Fast Track Mahila Court directed the state government to pay her a compensation of Rs 3 lakh. The crime incident took place on July 2, and the police were proactive in helping the family to file for interim compensation under section 9(1) of the POCSO Rules 2020. As a result, on July 13, Sessions judge S Isvarnae ordered for Rs 1 lakh compensation to be disbursed immediately and the remaining Rs 2 lakh within three months; and for the CWC to provide requisite relief to the child. She is undergoing treatment at the Madurai Government Rajaji Hospital. 

“Often, the police deal with child sexual abuse cases in a very material manner. However, the trauma that the children go through remains with them for their life. We have to see the victims through, and now, we are helping them with whatever legal means we have at our disposal,” says Saravanan P, the SP of Tirunelveli. “We are also periodically conducting awareness sessions for police officials, including in police academy, so that they know that the survivors and their families are entitled to these services from us,” he adds.

While these processes have been instituted recently, Asra Garg hopes that they will become a part of the police culture in dealing with child sexual abuse cases. “The SPs and DIGs have been directed to follow cases in this category and ensure that the IOs are fulfilling their duties. We are also conducting reviews of these processes as well. These processes were there in the rules, we just had to show the officials what had to be done,” he says.  

(With inputs from Azeefa Fathima and Saradha U)

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