New Delhi: Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud on Saturday said it is “unfortunate” that the manner in which the criminal justice system functions sometimes compounds the victim’s trauma, and the executive must therefore join hands with the judiciary to prevent this from happening.
Citing rising concerns pertaining to cases of mutually consenting “romantic relationships” falling under the purview of the POCSO Act, he said that this category of cases poses difficult questions for judges across the spectrum.
In his address at a two-day national programme on the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, the Chief Justice said the long-lasting implications of child sexual abuse make it imperative for the state and other stakeholders to create awareness on prevention of child sexual abuse, its timely recognition, and the remedy available in law.
Children must be taught the difference between safe touch and unsafe touch, he added.
The Chief Justice said, “it is an unfortunate fact that the manner in which the criminal justice system functions sometimes compounds the victim’s trauma. The executive must therefore join hands with the judiciary to prevent this from happening”.
He emphasised that above all, there is an urgent need to ensure that the so-called honour of the family is not prioritised above the best interest of the child, and the state must encourage the families to report abuse even when the perpetrator is a family member.
Chief Justice Chandrachud also urged the legislature to examine the growing concern around age of consent under the POCSO Act. “You are aware that the POCSO Act criminalises all sexual acts among those under 18 regardless of whether consent is present factually among the minors, because the presumption of the law is that there is no consent among those below 18,” he said.
He said this category of cases poses difficult questions for judges across the spectrum and there is a growing concern surrounding the issue which must be considered by the legislature in view of reliable research by experts in adolescent healthcare.
“I should leave this topic right here as this topic is very vexed as we see in courts everyday,” he added.
He pointed out victims’ families are hesitant to file a complaint with the police, so one must be very careful about entrusting excessive powers to the police. The Chief Justice said the slow pace of the criminal justice system is undoubtedly one of the reasons for this but other factors also play a significant role in this.
He added that issues concerning sexual abuse of children continue to be plagued by immense stigma.
“Too harmful stereotypes contribute to entrenching this culture of silence. The first is the stereotype that only a girl child is likely to be sexually abused. The second stereotype is that the perpetrator is a stranger. Researchers demonstrate that boys are at equal risk of sexual abuse and the perpetrator is known to the victim in an overwhelming number of cases. Therefore, the problem of sexual abuse of children remains a hidden problem………”, he said.
The Supreme Court Committee on Juvenile Justice, in association with UNICEF, is organising a two-day national consultation on the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act of 2012 starting on Saturday.