Parents, Know the Way Forward in a CSA Case – Ruth Dsouza Prabhu

The world seemed to stand still for a few moments when four-year-old Anahita* told her mother, Sunidhi, that Siddu uncle had been “playing naked games with her and that it hurt.” All Sunidhi could do was wrap her arms around her child and assure her that she did the right thing by coming to her, that there was nothing to be afraid of now, and that she was safe with her parents.

That evening, Shyam and Sunidhi contemplated the way forward and realized that they were in a situation that they never ever thought they would face. But now that they were in it, they needed to know the legal recourse to take.

There may be many parents out there who hesitate to come forward in such situations fearing that the law may simply worsen it for the family. This lack of knowledge is what often lets perpetrators get away. Perhaps this short guide by Suhasini Rao, a lawyer, will give them the courage they need…

In 2012, the Government of India enacted the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, (“Act”). This Act is supposed to comprehensively deal with offences of child sexual abuse, child pornography and the violation of children’s rights. A Special Juvenile Police Unit is formed under the Act to deal with offences under the Act. A designated Special Court is granted jurisdiction over offences under this Act. The following steps outline a basic procedure you should keep in mind in the unfortunate event that you must deal with a case of child sexual abuse.

Identifying the criminal and working to save evidence

To deal with an offence, one should always report the crime to the police and also, be aware of the need to record and preserve evidence. Presuming you obtain the information of the crime within 24 hours of its occurrence –

  1. Talk to the child and write/record exactly what the child says.
  2. Inform the police immediately.
  3. It is mandatory for the police to record your complaint and provide you with an entry number for the complaint.
  4. If the child is capable of stating the facts, then she should be encouraged to do so. The Police must record the complaint in simple terms so that the child can understand it.
  5. Section 27 lays out the process to have the child medically examined. Especially in the case of female children, the examination should be conducted by a woman doctor.
  6. You should read up about the prescribed guidelines to conduct a forensic medical investigation and know that the child’s safety, health and comfort cannot be compromised by the medical examiner.

Knowing the rights of your child

  1. Your child is entitled to separate legal representation, apart from the Special Prosecutor who will try the case. If you cannot afford a lawyer, a lawyer will be provided to you by the State.
  2. At all times, try to maintain a record of facts and events. This will help corroborate evidence if needed.
  3. Your child does not have to encounter the perpetrator while testifying in Court during trial. In fact, your child is protected from all further contact with the perpetrator by the Act.
  4. All trials of offences under this Act are to be conducted in camera. This means, trials are to be conducted behind closed doors where only those who have a direct connection to the trial may attend.
  5. Especially in offences of child pornography, your child’s identity is to be protected by the Act.

Right to counseling and medical assistance

While the Act itself does not cover the right to medical assistance extensively, the State Government is empowered to establish guidelines in this regard. In any event, the right to health is now recognized as an integral part of the fundamental right to life contained in Article 21 of the Constitution of India and is actionable against the State.

Common worries parents may have

What if the law enforcers do not cooperate with handling the case?
Under the Act, it is now a mandate to record all reports of sexual offences.

Are children supposed to give testimonies in courts? Is there such a thing as crossing a line? What are the parents’ rights here?

A child above seven years of age is considered capable of giving testimony upon which the court can rely. Evidentiary law is grey on the subject, however. It is always better if the child can actually appear and recount her story. Always hire a lawyer for your child. Make sure the child is comfortable with this lawyer. Insist that the lawyer meet the child and explain to her what the process is, what sort of questions are to be expected, and what is expected of her in the witness box.

Make sure that the parents and the child both understand that irrespective of the outcome of the situation, the occurrence of the crime is not the child’s fault. As stated above, if you cannot hire a lawyer, the State must provide you with one. The mandate of this lawyer is to protect the best interests of the child and not to secure a conviction. That is the job of the prosecutor.

Being the parent of a CSA victim is not something that can be easily imagined or understood. However, given the kind of world we live in today…being aware is essential. It may help us in an hour of need or help us arm a grieving parent with the knowledge s/he needs to move forward and to do right for his/her child.

* Anahita, Sunidhi, Shyam and Siddu are fictitious characters created for the purpose of this article.