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UPSC EDITORIAL ANALYSIS : A minor girl victim support scheme that loses its way

 

                  

 

Source: The Hindu

  • Prelims: POCSO, sexual and reproductive health (SRH), medical termination of pregnancy (MTP), Child Welfare Committee (CWC), National Crime Record Bureau etc
  • Mains GS Paper I and II: Vulnerable sections of society, Laws, institutions and bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of vulnerable sections of society etc

 

ARTICLE HIGHLIGHTS

  • On November 30, 2023, the Ministry of Women and Child Development notified the “Scheme for Care and Support to Victims under Section 4 & 6 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012”.

INSIGHTS ON THE ISSUE

Context

POCSO Act:

  • The Union Ministry of Women and Child Development led the introduction of the POCSO Act in 2012.
  • The Act was designed to protect children from sexual assault, sexual harassment and pornography
  • Special courts: Provide for the establishment of Special Courts for the trial of such offenses.
  • Amendment: The Act was amended in 2019 for enhancing the punishments for specific offenses in order to deter abusers and ensure a dignified childhood.

 

Key Features of the Act:

 

 

Objective of New Notification:

  • To provide integrated support and assistance to minor pregnant girl child victims “under one roof”
  • Facilitate immediate emergency and non-emergency access to services for long-term rehabilitation.

 

Issues with the new notification:

  • It was for only abandoned or orphaned pregnant girls, initially, the scheme has now been expanded to include all pregnant girl victims under the mentioned sections of the POCSO Act.
    • The scheme has not been redrafted to reflect the new inclusiveness, and many of the commensurate changes warranted have been left out.
  • The misleading nomenclature results in confusion (a constant feature that runs through the scheme)
    • Victims under Sections 4 and 6 of the POCSO Act could be of any gender.
  • When the scheme is precisely for all pregnant girls/victims under 18 years,
    • A disproportionate number of these girls are between 13-18 years and “In many of these cases, girls become pregnant”
    • It would then put the onus on the government to be proactive and provide sexual and reproductive health (SRH) information and services to youth rather than being reactive
  • The law has not, as indicated by sociological, medical and judicial data, proven to be very effective
    • because many of these cases involving pregnant girls arise out of marriage and non-exploitative, explorative sexual activity among young people.
    • There are cases of pregnancy because of sexual violence and exploitation.
  • The scheme remains silent on whether the benefits will continue to be provided if the victim of a reported case opts for an MTP or has a miscarriage.
  • It is wrongly stated that Section 27, POCSO Act, 2012, which actually refers to the medical examination of a child
    • It is to be taken into account to decide on the placement of the minor pregnant girl in institutional care/non-institutional care.
  • It implies that the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) can consent for the sexual assault medical examination of any child below 12 years of age, whether or not her parents/guardian are present.
  • In case of an MTP, the district magistrate, on advice of the district chief medical officer, shall order for an MTP to a government facility or registered medical practitioner.
    • This delaying stipulation is redundant and is not in consonance with the MTP Act.
  • The reference to MTP is reduced to two sentences that have been inserted at random in the 21-page document.
  • Victims under the POCSO Act, including those who are pregnant, do not automatically qualify as Children in Need of Care and Protection (CNCP).
    • Benefits can be extended to them without categorizing them as CNCP if the family or guardian is able to provide necessary care and protection.
    • In the scheme, to avail its benefits, all pregnant girls will need to be considered as CNCP.
    • This is contrary to Rule 4(4), POCSO Rules and Section 2(14), Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 (JJ Act)
    • It will entail in their unnecessary production before the CWC and the observance of all other attendant procedures under these legislations.
  • If the young mother chooses to surrender the baby, “the newborn may be placed in the designated SAA till the girl child victim attains the age of 18 years.
    • She will be informed of the process of surrender as per Section 35 of the JJ Act”.
    • This is contrary to the Adoption Regulations overseen by the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) which does not have any age thresholds for a mother to surrender the infant.
  • The scheme condemns the infant to an unnecessarily long period of institutionalization (perhaps for a few years, as, in some cases, the mother may be a young teenager).

Related Constitutional Provisions:

  • Article 21: Every child the right to live with dignity the right to personal liberty and the right to privacy
  • Article 14: the right to equality
  • Article 15: right against discrimination
  • Article 23 & 24: right against exploitation
  • Article 21A: Right to free and compulsory elementary education for all children in the 6-14 year age.
  • Article 39(f): Obligation on the State to ensure that:
    • Children are given opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity
    • Childhood and youth are protected against exploitation and against moral and material abandonment.

 

Way Forward

  • Government needs to step up its efforts in promoting and setting up safeguarding systems for children and adolescents
    • Promoting SRH information and ensuring abuse prevention education for the entire community.
  • The high position India occupies in the ranking of child marriages and teenage pregnancies, the burden on the exchequer, proposed by the scheme, is going to be multifold.
  • With the prevailing mandatory reporting provision in the POCSO Act, 2012, pointing to an exponential increase of cases being reported by health authorities at the time of delivery or pregnancy-related hospital visits
    • A thorough analysis of health data and police data needs to be undertaken to plan, budget and provide for the scheme.
  • It is imperative for the Ministry of Women and Child Development to rectify the notification
    • Bearing in mind the provisions of the various prevailing legislations, rules, guidelines and protocols with which it will integrate and intersect.
    • Data which can substantiate many of the aspects put forth will further give it the backing of solid evidence.

QUESTION FOR PRACTICE

Examine the main provisions of the National Child Policy and throw light on the status of its implementation.(UPSC 2016) (200 WORDS, 10 MARKS)

 

Editorial Analysis – 21 May 2024