The death of an 18-year-old woman, who died by suicide in Kerala’s Malappuram district, in January 2022, has once again brought to light the insensitive nature of the Kerala Police in handling cases related to sexual harassment against women and children.
The woman, a victim of six cases registered under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, had allegedly written in a letter before ending her life that she was under severe mental stress caused by police officials, who were investigating the case. “The inspector physically abused my fiance and insulted me by calling me a sex worker. The accused and the police are responsible for my current situation,” she had said in the letter.
Among the accused in the POCSO cases are the relatives and acquaintances of the woman. The cases were registered against the accused at Feroke and Kondotty police stations in March 2021.
According to a report by The New Indian Express, the mother of the victim said that she was hoping that her daughter would get justice when the police and childline intervened. “But what happened was that we were humiliated in front of our relatives in the name of collecting evidence. The police did not protect the identity of my daughter and they were publicising the details of the sexual assault,” the report quoted the mother as saying.
The Kerala police as well as the Department of Women and Child Development of the state were severely criticised for failing to protect the survivor of POCSO cases. The Child Welfare Committee (CWC) also came under fire for not taking measures to keep the survivor in a safe place and instead of sending her to the house with her mother.
Reacting to the growing insensitive nature of Kerala Police in handling sexual violences against children, several activists and lawyers have demanded the need for a special team to look into POCSO cases.
Advocate J Sandhya, the former member of Kerala Child Rights Commission, stated that according to the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000, there should be a special juvenile police unit to handle cases committed by children and against children. “This has been mentioned in the law for the last 20 years but till now, we have not been able to implement it on the ground,” Sandhya told India Ahead.
Recalling her tenure as a member of the Child Rights Commission, Sandhya said that they have tried initiating dialogues with the Kerala Home Department about the need for a special juvenile unit in the police force but they were told that it was difficult to form a separate wing due to financial constraints. “But recently, they have formed more than 200 posts for an economic offences wing. So that means, the state government does not see this as a matter of importance,” claimed Sandhya.
The advocate added that the Home Department plans to make every police officer in the state child friendly, which is not possible according to her. She pointed out that the continuing allegations and complaints against the police officials regarding the way they handle POCSO cases is a testimony to the fact that it’s difficult to sensitise the police force, handling such cases.
“We cannot completely blame the police officials as well. The mindset of officials who are trained to handle law and order issues is entirely different and juvenile jurisprudence is a field that is diametrically opposite to their training. So we cannot expect them to sound like a church priest while dealing with children. That is why there is a need for a separately trained wing, specialised in dealing with children,” she added.
According to Anwar, the coordinator of Malappuram Childline, asserted that it’s not just the police system that has to be sensitised but also the state CWC. The CWC is a body that is constituted by state governments in India under the Juvenile Justice Act to deal with children in need of care and protection.
“The CWC should have a multidisciplinary team, consisting of qualified professionals from various fields like psychology, psychiatry, law, education and so on and most importantly a child-friendly aptitude and attitude,” said Anwar.
He added that as far as CWCs in Kerala, especially Malappuram were concerned, most of the members were from one particular field – Law. “When they take decisions with regard to a child, they will only view it from a legal point of view. But a person who is an educationist would be able to take a decision from the educational aspect of the child, a psychologist would be able to take a decision taking the psychological aspect into consideration. So it is necessary that various aspects of the child should be looked into for their well-being and protection,” added the childline coordinator.