By Maya Palit
A day after a 50-year-old man was arrested for assaulting his 4-year-old neighbour in New Delhi while apparently tucking her in on a visit to her house, a 3-year-old in Bangalore was assaulted at her play school by a member of the staff. The parents managed to lodge a complaint with the police but claimed that the principal of the school had refused to interrogate the staff member, and attempted to defend him. Incidentally, the staff member was also in charge of supervising CCTV at the school, so it would be next to impossible to unearth footage of the incident.
Although in this scenario, they were able to have the principal questioned by the police, situations like this are what make the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, though robust and important in itself, somewhat difficult to deploy. Because there are often barriers from within schools, with cases where the ‘mandatory reporting’ clause is deliberately flouted, either because the parents have been cagey about reporting a case of sexual assault, or when staff or teachers have made it difficult to report incidents from within the school premises. (Recently too, there was a case of a principal who was booked under POCSO, but subsequently transferred to another school while investigations were ongoing.)
It might look like a particularly horrible fortnight of crimes against children. From the gruesome cases of two 3-year-olds who went missing, in separate incidents, and were assaulted and found dead in Chennai, to the cases in Bangalore and New Delhi, horrific incidents have been surfacing every few days. But as activists working with POCSO have implied before, only a fraction of the incidents taking place are eventually reported, and the real matter of urgency here is to make sure that the people reporting and handling these crimes do so rapidly and without hesitation.