Protection of children from sexual offences (POCSO) act 2012
The post outlines the components and salient features of the POCSO act (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act) 2012. It also covers medical evaluation and initial management of a child with sexual abuse.
Related questions asked
Questions on sexual abuse and the POCSO act have been repeatedly asked in recent years.
- POCSO guidelines (2021/2)
- Medical evaluation of a child with sexual abuse (2021/1) 5
- Components of POCSO act (2021/1) 5
Table of Contents
When did the act come into existence?
The Ministry of Women and Child Development introduced the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, in 2012
Amendment in POCSO act
The Act was amended in 2019, to make provisions for enhancing the punishments for various offenses so as to deter the perpetrators and ensure safety, security, and dignified childhood.
What does POCSO safeguard?
POCSO safeguards the best interests and well-being of the child (defined below), to ensure the healthy physical, emotional, intellectual, and social development of the child.
Age limit of a child to come under the POCSO act?
Under the POCSO act, any person who is below 18 years of age is a child and the law will be applicable to him/her.
Salient features of POCSO law
- It is gender-neutral.
- It makes the reporting of abuse mandatory.
- It makes the recording of sexual abuse mandatory.
- It lists all known types of sexual offenses towards minors.
- It provides for the protection of minors during the judicial process.
1. Gender Neutrality
POCSO act is gender neutral. The aim is to preserve the best interests and welfare of the child irrespective of sexuality.
2. Mandatory reporting of sexual abuse
every person who suspects or has knowledge of a sexual offense being committed against a child to report it to the local police or the Special Juvenile Police Unit
3. Mandatory recording of sexual abuse
The act mandates recording the statements of a child, reporter as well as evidence in a reproducible manner. It also ensures the required support and comfort to the child and the presence of NGOs, and health experts while doing so.
Failure to Report Child Abuse
Under POCSO any person, who fails to report the offence or fails to record such offence is punished with imprisonment for up to six months or with a fine, or both.
Reporting False Information
Any person, who makes a false complaint or provides false information against any person, solely with the intention to humiliate, extort or threaten or defame, is punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months or with a fine or with both. If such information is provided against a child, the punishment may extend to one year.
4. Listing all forms of sexual abuse toward children
The act is amended in 2019 to include and define all possible forms of sexual abuse towards a child making it even more strict.
It defines different forms of sexual abuse, including penetrative and non-penetrative assault, as well as sexual harassment and pornography
Offenses covered under the POCSO act
Penetrative Sexual Assault
Insertion of the penis, another body part or object in the child's vagina/ urethra/ anus/ mouth or asking the child to do so with them or some other person. Thus the law includes all forms of sexual penetration.
This includes inappropriately touching the child or making the child touch them or someone else.
This includes passing sexual remarks, sexual gestures/noises, repeatedly following, flashing, etc.
It defines "child pornography" as any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a child which includes a photograph, video, digital or computer-generated image indistinguishable from an actual child, and image created, adapted, or modified, but appears to depict a child
Aggravated sexual Assault (Penetrative or non-penetrative)
The sexual assault will be considered aggravated in the following circumstances
- The abused child is mentally ill
- The abuse is committed by a person in a position of trust or authority over the child, like a family member, police officer, teacher, doctor, remand home, protection home, observation home, or any other place of custody or care
People who traffic children for sexual purposes are also punishable under the provisions relating to abetment in the Act. The Act prescribes stringent punishment graded as per the gravity of the offense, with a maximum term of rigorous imprisonment for life, and a fine.
Timeline for the Justice
The POCSO act amendment in 2019 orders that a case of child sexual abuse must be disposed of within 1 year from the date of reporting.
Role and responsibilities of Paediatrician in the POCSO act/child with sexual abuse
The act clearly mentions the responsibility of doctors in the management of Child sexual abuse (CSA)
A. Initial management of child sexual abuse
- Child sexual abuse is a medical emergency
- Free treatment is mandatory at government or private medical facilities
- No documents or preconditions are necessary for providing emergency medical care
- It is a mandatory duty to report child sexual abuse or its likelihood to Special Juvenile Police Unit/ Local Police
- Ensure reporting the matter to Children Welfare Committee within 24 Hours
- Any material or object which is sexually exploitative of the child including pornography shall be informed to Police through Hospital Authorities if found in the Hospital Premises.
- The pediatrician shall not incur any liability whether civil/ criminal, for giving information in good faith but at the same time ensure the protection of the Privacy of the Child when the incident is being reported in Media.
- The Identity of the child cannot be disclosed without Court Permission, and only if in its opinion such disclosure is in the interest of the child.
C. Medical evaluation of a child with sexual abuse
- Collect history and evidence wherever possible and conduct medical examination and investigation according to the laid guidelines.
- Medical examination of the child must aim to cause minimal discomfort.
- Informed consent must be obtained from a child >12 years and from a parent/carer if <12 years.
- The examination should be carried out in the presence of the parent or other person whom the child trusts, and in the case of a female child by a female doctor.
- Diagnosis is often based on history, thus obtaining history is crucial
- Follow Non-investigative, non-judgemental way to obtain history.
- Ideally, obtain history without the presence of the parent or caregiver.
- Record questions and the child’s responses verbatim. Note body language, demeanour, and emotional state.
- Include The child’s developmental level and the family’s psychosocial background.
- Legally binding to examine and provide treatment for reported sexual violence.
- No police personnel during any part of the examination
- In the case of a female child, the examination is conducted by a female doctor.
- General observation and inspection of the anogenital area. Look for signs of injury or infection.
- Visualization of the more recessed genital structures, using handheld magnification or colposcopy when necessary.
- Collection of screening specimens for STD's
The following samples can be collected
- Gram stain of vaginal or anal discharge
- Genital, anal, and pharyngeal culture for Gonorrhea
- Genital and anal culture for Chlamydia.
- Serology for syphilis
- Wet preparation of vaginal discharge for Trichomonas vaginalis
- Culture of lesions for herpes virus
- Serology for HIV (based on suspected risk)
- Examination of forensic evidence such as blood, semen, sperm, hair or skin fragments is important in linking the assault to an individual person, identifying the location, etc.
- Collection of specimens and material should be done where a physical examination is conducted within 96 hours of sexual contact.
D. Providing support
- Facilitate/offer the child to take the assistance of experts eg. NGOs, Child Psychologists, Social Workers, Child Psychiatrists, and Child Development Professionals.
- Facilitate admitting the child into a shelter home/ hospital if in need of care and protection
E. Prevention of child sexual abuse
- Pediatricians can play a pivotal role in the prevention of sexual abuse crimes, at various levels. They can help uncover the possibility of sexual abuse during routine hospital visits.
- Younger children and their parents can be educated about ‘good’ touch and ‘bad touch. Older children can be taught about body parts, differences between boys and girls, and privacy.
- Parents and children can be educated to report unusual behaviors by other adults etc. The aim is to play a part to secure healthy and secure childhood.
POCSO 2012 act is commisioned for protection of children from offences of sexual assault, sexual harassment and pornography and facilitates the establishment of Special Courts for trial of such offences under Ministry of Women and Child Development.
- Child Sexual Abuse: Management and Prevention, and Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act [ext link]
- POCSO, act 2020 update [ext link]
- Model Guidelines under Section 39 of The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 [ext link]
- Role of Pediatricians in Early Childhood Nurturing Care Related to Safety and Security. [ext link]
- Child-related legislation [ext link]
Ajay Agade | DNB(Pediatrics), FNB(Pediatric Intensive Care), Fellowship in Pediatric pulmonology and LTV
Ajay is a Paediatric Intensivist, currently working in Pediatric Pulmonology & LTV at Great Ormond Street Hospital NHS, London