Importance of 'Support persons' emphasized by the Apex Court for POCSO victims; Issues Guidelines.

Importance of ‘Support persons’ emphasized by the Apex Court for POCSO victims; Issues Guidelines.

The Supreme Court issued an order regarding the appointment of support personnel under the POCSO Act and their qualifications. The Court issued directives for the formulation of appointment guidelines.

It is important to note that the POCSO Rules, 2020 define a’support person’ as “someone assigned by a child welfare committee to assist a child during the investigation and trial process, or any other person assisting a child pre-trial or during the trial process for offences under the POCSO Act, 2012.”

The bench of Justices S Ravindra Bhat and Justice Aravind Kumar was hearing a petition filed by Bachpan Bachao Andolan, which raised concerns regarding the protection offered to victims under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.

The court’s order focuses on the appointment and qualifications of support persons, emphasising their crucial role in guiding and assisting victims throughout the intricate legal process.

“A support person is responsible for providing the child with information, emotional and psychological support, and practical assistance, which are frequently essential to the child’s recuperation. In many ways, a support person functions as a guardian ad litem for the child,” the court noted.

The support person is responsible for accompanying the child during statement recording, medical examination, depositions, and all other interactions during the investigation, pre-trial, and trial phases. The mandate for a “support person” as outlined in the POCSO Rules, however, remains unfulfilled. A report submitted in the 2019 case Alarming Rise in the Number of Reported Child Rape Incidents, In re revealed that only 4% of POCSO cases had a support person appointed.

In light of this, the court issued certain directives to the state of Uttar Pradesh (since the incident in question occurred in UP). In addition, the Ministry of Women and Child Development has been charged with informing the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) of the ruling and its obligations. According to Section 39 of the POCSO Act, the NCPCR is also required to submit a status report to the Court detailing the progress made by each state in drafting guidelines.

In furtherance of the mandate of Section 39 of the POCSO Act, the Court ordered that, within six weeks, the Principal Secretary of the Department of Women and Child Welfare in the state of Uttar Pradesh shall convene a meeting to review the facts, take action, and draught rules/guidelines as necessary.

ESSENTIAL COURT DIRECTIVES INCLUDE: 1. Comprehensive Assessment of Support Persons Ecosystem: The state is required to assess its capabilities regarding the support persons ecosystem, including aspects related to their selection, appointment, specialised rules, guidelines, Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), training, career advancement, and employment terms.

Participation of relevant authorities for such an assessment: “For carrying out such an assessment, the presence of the Chairperson, of the State Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (SCPCR), Secretary, State Legal Service Authority, senior-most President of a JJB and senior-most Chairperson of a CWC in the state, and a representative from the State Commission for Women shall be required.”

3. Data Collection from District Child Protection Unit According to Rule 5(1), the District Child Protection Unit (DCPU) must provide information about the support personnel it maintains. According to Rule 5(6), this list should include individuals or organisations involved in child rights or protection, officials of children’s homes or shelter homes, and other eligible individuals.

Guidelines and Training: Following consultations, rules or guidelines concerning the educational requirements and training prerequisites for support personnel must be established.

Periodic Training for All Personnel The directives emphasise that the DCPU or CWC must organise periodic training sessions for all support personnel listed in their directory. This training should include not only legal and court procedures under the POCSO Act, but also effective communication and sensitivity when interacting with children from various backgrounds.

The Authorities are tasked with establishing a dependable and efficient reporting mechanism. As per Rule 4(12), this will allow support personnel to submit monthly reports to the relevant Child Welfare Committee (CWC). The compiled reports will then be sent to the SCPCR and the state government.

7. Standard Operating Procedure (SOP): The Court emphasised the importance of establishing a SOP to guide the reporting process and ensure the correct execution of Rule 12 of the POCSO Rules, 2020. It will facilitate reporting by CWCs, including the participation of support personnel in trials and investigations. Also required is a monthly evaluation of this information by the SCPCR. To assure uniformity in response, this SOP should be shared with Juvenile Justice Boards and Child Welfare Committees.

The court acknowledged the difficult nature of victim-offender interactions, particularly in hostile environments.

The Supreme Court has emphasised the need for the remuneration of support personnel to be proportional to their qualifications and level of experience, despite the fact that the rules stipulate that support personnel be compensated similarly to skilled employees. The court explained, “For instance, someone with an MA in psychology should be compensated similarly to someone with a comparable qualification in the PSU/government sector.”

Model Guidelines and Precedent Consideration: “Model guidelines prepared prior to POCSO rules may be considered for the formulation of guidelines,” the court stated.

Comprehensive Support for Victims The Supreme Court remarked that justice goes beyond apprehending the perpetrators; it is equally essential to ensure that victims receive proper care, support, and safety throughout the entire legal process.

It was noted that “in cases of crimes against women, justice is not served solely by apprehending the perpetrator, but also by providing support, care, and security to the victim throughout the entire process.”

True justice is achieved when victims are reintegrated into society with their dignity and worth restored, according to the court, which emphasised the important role of support institutions.

13. Responsibilities of the State for Implementation: Following the establishment of the POCSO Rules, 2020, it is the state’s responsibility to ensure the stringent implementation of these directives.

In its concluding remarks, the Supreme Court instructed the relevant authorities to submit an update by October 4, 2023.

Bachpan Bachao Andolan v. Union of India is the case’s title.

AOR Jagjit Singh Chhabra represented the petition


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