PROTECTION OF CHILDREN FROM SEXUAL OFFENCES ACT
POCSO stands for the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act. It is a law passed by the Indian government in 2012 to address and prevent sexual crimes against minors. The POCSO Act’s principal goal is to establish a comprehensive legal framework for protecting minors from sexual abuse, exploitation, and pornography.
Age of consent: The Act states that any sexual interaction with a person under the age of 18 is illegal, regardless of whether the child consents or not.
Special courts: The Act calls for the formation of special courts to hear instances involving child sexual abuse. These courts seek to speed the judicial process while also ensuring the safety and well-being of minor victims.
Child-friendly procedures: The Act emphasises the need for child-friendly procedures during the investigation, trial, and court proceedings. It provides procedures to guarantee the child’s privacy, assistance, and comfort during the legal process.
Punishment and penalties: Depending on the gravity of the offence, the legislation provides for harsh punishments such as imprisonment, fines, and, in certain circumstances, life imprisonment or the death sentence.
Mandatory reporting: Under the Act, persons such as physicians, teachers, and other professionals are required by law to report incidents of child sexual abuse to the relevant authorities.
CAN A COMPLAINT UNDER POCSO BE WITHDRAWN?
While Section 321 of CrPC does have provisions for withdrawal from prosecution, there is no express provision in POCSO for the withdrawal of a complaint. The following broad actions may be involved in such process:
Application submission: The complainant or their legal representative may need to make an application to have the complaint withdrawn. The application should be presented to the appropriate court where the matter is being considered and should explicitly specify the reasons for the withdrawal.
Court proceedings: Once the application is filed, the court will typically review the request and may conduct hearings to ensure that the withdrawal is voluntary and not influenced by coercion or duress. The court may also consider the implications of the withdrawal on the victim’s well-being and safety.
Court decision: The court will make a decision based on the merits of the case and the circumstances surrounding the withdrawal request. Any withdrawal is entirely to the discretion of the court under Article 482.
It must be noted that such withdrawal is extremely rare since there have been various precedents where court has not allowed for any such withdrawal unless they were made in extraordinary circumstances, or for better administration of justice or in larger public interest.
WHICH COURT CAN ONE FILE AN APPLICATION FOR WITHDRAWAL OF POCSO COMPLAINT?
An application of withdrawal may be filed with any court of jurisdiction or any court in which the proceedings are going on. If the statement is to be withdrawn before the proceedings have begun, an application may be submitted to the police- who will then forward it to the court of session or special courts specifically for POCSO.
However, if the proceedings have begun, then the application has to be filed to the same court in which the hearing is going on. It must be noted that the courts are rather strict in sensitive cases like these and usually do not allow for withdrawal of cases under POCSO. Therefore, such withdrawal completely lies at the discretion of the court.
HAS THE MINOR WITHDRAWN HER COMPLAINT IN THE WRESTLERS’ PROTEST?
The minor has merely given an additional statement. It is, then, up to the court of the magistrate to decide which statement shall be given precedence to. This cannot be called a withdrawal, the same would be nothing but a legal fallacy. Such reporting by the news agencies is nothing but a blunder when looked at from the legal perspective.
Under Section 164 CrPC, all statements made are signed and presented before the magistrate. All such statements carry evidentiary value. However, no complainant can simply go and make two contradictory statements with regards to the same case and get away with it.
A point to be noted here is that the number of statements the complainant makes with regards to the same case does not really matter because the complainant would still have to speak under oath in front of the magistrate. However, since this case is under POCSO, the victim shall be made comfortable by given required witness protection, privacy etc. The same shall still be examined by the court and only then the validity of the statement shall be determined. Therefore, the same cannot be called a ‘withdrawal’. An FIR, once filed, has to necessarily be adjudged by the court of law. Crimes under POCSO are non-compoundable, which means that no negotiation is allowed in the same. These crimes are considered as wrongs against the whole society and not just the victim, and it becomes the duty of the state and hence the duty of courts to make sure that no complaints are withdrawn under undue pressure.