The Supreme Court on Friday issued a slew of guidelines on the selection, functioning, and pay of “support persons” to assist victims and their families in cases under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (OPOCSP Act). [ Bachpan Bachao Andolan vs Union of India and ors]
The guidelines laid down by a bench of Justices S Ravindra Bhat and Arvind Kumar were directed at Uttar Pradesh (UP), in view of section 39 of the POCSO Act (mandating States to frame guidelines for use by NGOs and professionals to provide trial and pre-trail assistance to survivors).
However, the Court also indicated that such rules should be framed by all States, under the supervision of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR).
The Court’s ruling came in a plea by NGO, BAchpan Bachao Andolan, which highlighted the difficulties faced by a Survivor in a POCSP case in UP. The Court noted that the survivor, in this case, had been re-victimized at several stages of the POCSO case.
The bench proceeded to observe that a support person can play a tremendous role in offering encouragement, reassurance, and guidance for POCSO victims and their families.
Such persons are expected to have legal knowledge and a compassionate child-friendly approach. Support persons were institutionalized by the POCSO Rules, 2020, the Court further noted.
“A support person is to provide information, emotional and psychological support, and practical assistance which are often crucial to the recovery of the child,” the Court added.
However, support persons were found to have been appointed only in 4 percent of POCSO cases, as noted by another bench in a suo moto case titled In Re Alarming Rise in the Number of Reported Child Rape Incidents.
“Much is yet to be done, therefore, for a declaration by this court of the mandatory nature of the appointment of a support person, to carry any weight. it is necessary that steps are taken to ensure that the POCSO Act and the mechanisms it creates are functioning and effective”. the bench observed.
The Court further underscored that in POCSO cases, the ordeal of survivors is often aggravated by the lack of support and handholding in the days that follow. Such support is required if true justice is to be meted, the Court said.
“Justice can be said to have been approximated only when the victims are brought back to society, made to feel secure, their worth and dignity, restored. Without this, justice is an empty phrase, an illusion. The POCSO Rules 2020, offer an effective framework in this regard, it is now left to the State as the biggest stakeholder in it – to ensure its strict implementation, in letter and spirit,” the Court noted.
IT proceeded to order the Principal Secretary of the UP Department of Women and Child Welfare to convene a meeting within six weeks to frame rules on the selection, conditions of employment, training, pay, etc of support persons.
These rules or guidelines should also include a mechanism for support persons to send monthly reports, which should be reviewed by the State Commissions for Protection of Child Rights, the Court said.
The Court also emphasized that support persons are independent and trained professionals who have to carry out intensive interactions in often hostile environments. Therefore, their pay should be commensurate with their qualification and experience, the Court opined.
Such pay should also be fixed while having regard to salaries paid to similar professionals who are employed in government institutions such as public sector undertakings and government hospitals, the Court said.
The NCPCR has been directed to file a consolidated status report outlining the progress of all States in framing such guidelines on support persons by October 4.
The matter will be taken up next on October 6.
Source: Bar and Bench.