POSCO will have to be amended in the next session of Parliament

Kathua, Unnao, Surat and a number of gory child rapes seems to have stirred the conscience of the nation. Political campaigns and partisan politics aside, this grave issue of mutilating children preceded by rape needs to shake up the nation. While a comprehensive strategy has to be evolved for saving children from perverts and criminals, the cabinet’s decision on Saturday to award death penalty to perpetrators of such crimes on children up to 12 years of age should be seen as only the first step. The presidential ordinance to award death penalty cannot be the lasting response to such crimes that point to a deeper malaise. But, such a step was not a day late in coming against the background of the rising number of child rapes.

Eventually, the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POSCO) will have to be amended through a bill in the next session of Parliament. While seven years’ imprisonment and life term were already part of the statute, the death penalty is expected to be a deterrent for criminals on the prowl. Four states – Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana and Arunachal Pradesh – have passed resolutions and legislations that propose death sentence to child rapists. Delhi, Manipur, Jammu & Kashmir and Uttar Pradesh are in the process of making sexual crimes against children an offence punishable with death. If Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code were to be overhauled, Parliament would have to step in and pass the amendments to deter rapes against children.

While the presidential ordinance providing for death is welcome, it must be considered against the issue of poor conviction in such cases. Over 8,900 cases of child abuse registered under POCSO in 2014 have not yet been resolved. Slow progress in investigation, insensitivity of police force in dealing with such cases and non-availability of a mechanism to rehabilitate child victims of sexual abuse seem to be issues that need attention if POCSO were to make an impact. It is frustrating that over 90,205 cases of child abuse, rape, and multiple crimes leading to death continue to drag for years with a major chunk pending for more than half a decade. Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Maharastra top the infamy chart and account for about 50 per cent of such crimes and related cases pending while the perpetrators continue to have a free run.

Investigations in these cases need to be speeded up followed by speedy trial of the accused rapists. For that to happen, the 597 dedicated POCSO courts may not be enough. The number of these courts may have to go up four times. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will have to take the lead in a public campaign against such crimes given that the laws, probe and outcome of legal cases would only be in the aftermath of the crimes. Such campaigns should be in coordination with states, especially where the child abuses and rapes have been reported at regular intervals. Such a comparing must include mobilising community leaders and sensitising the police force. Children should be taught ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch’ and trained when to raise an alarm. Leveraging technology applications to identify potential spots for such crimes is a huge task as part of preventive strategy. Finally, ‘naming and shaming’ and isolating such elements from the society should be part of dealing with the issue. In short, there is no room for lethargy. It must be all hands on deck to confront and weed out the criminal elements.