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Views on battling crimes against children

Over the past six months, more than 230 cases have been registered under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences POCSO) Act, said Chennai Police Commissioner Shankar Jiwal. He was speaking at a virtual discussion conducted by the Press Institute of India and the UNICEF State Office for Tamil Nadu and Kerala on the subject, Combating Crimes against Child: No Child’s Play, in November. Jiwal disclosed that Tamil Nadu police had come up with a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to handle POCSO cases and added that the document would soon be made public. While the Supreme Court, considering the constitutional guarantees, has given a dictum that there must be basic proof even in POCSO cases, retired justice S. Vimala, who was the first director of a state judicial academy in 2006, said that the law must act in the interest of the affected child. “Children have additional difficulty in describing events. They are voiceless and the judiciary should be sensitive to that,” she emphasised. Vimala observed that many POCSO cases have led to acquittal because mere presumptions do not work. She said that ‘knowledge’ (of the crime) is rightly not defined because “depending on the event we must be able to interpret”.

Senior advocate Sudha Ramalingam said that schools and other institutions where children gather, must inform the police of any sexual violence against children, even if there wasn’t a written complaint from the child. Unfortunately, even after giving written complaints, setting the law in motion is very difficult in our country, she added, saying there was the need to sensitise the officers concerned and one of the problems is getting proof. It was crucial for parents to create an enabling environment at home, where children could freely speak about their feelings, said Ganesan Kumaresan, child protection specialist, UNICEF Chennai. Bharati Lakshmi, principal, Hindustan International School, said that a good school was one which created an environment where children could speak freely. She stressed the importance of teaching self-defence in schools so that children had the confidence to defend themselves. Joanna Joshua, a student, said recent incidents of sexual abuse in Chennai schools had encouraged conversations at the campus level. However, one of the biggest fears in speaking out was the shame involved, she revealed. The discussion was moderated by advocate and columnist Sanjay Pinto.