The Supreme Court has emphasised that, according to the 2023 Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, it is the State’s duty to ensure the provision of ‘support persons’ for child victims of sexual offences. The Court asserted that making the appointment of support persons optional is not permissible. The Court further clarified that the decision regarding the necessity of support persons should not be left to the discretion of the child victims’ parents.
The bench, consisting of Justices S Ravindra Bhat and Aravind Kumar remarked: “This Court is of the opinion that the need for a support person should not be left to the discretion of the parents; in all cases, the option of availability of support person and right to claim the assistance of such support person should be made known to the victims’ parents…”
They stated that The State is obligated to furnish support persons to victims under POCSO, and this provision cannot be made discretionary. The presence of support persons is mandatory unless the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) has documented valid reasons for their absence in their order.
Recent Revisions to the POCSO Act
Earlier, on August 18, the panel had issued an order stressing the significance of the State’s appointment of ‘support persons’ for child victims. They had also instructed the NCPCR to submit a status report detailing the progress made by all the States in formulating guidelines per Section 39 of the POCSO Act.
The POCSO Rules, 2020, define a ‘support person’ as follows: “An individual designated by a child welfare committee to offer aid to a child throughout the investigation and trial process, or any other person who aids a child either before the trial or during the trial proceedings related to offences under the POCSO Act, 2012.”
In its most recent ruling on October 9, the Court instructed the NCPCR to engage in consultations with both State Governments and Union Territories’ Governments to create model guidelines. These guidelines will serve as a foundation for States and Union Territories to establish their own rules concerning support persons under Section 39 of the POCSO Act.
A proposal was made to have the NCPCR initially draft guidelines, which could then be shared with all the States. After carefully considering their comments and suggestions, the guidelines could be formalized.
It is worth mentioning that the current petition has been submitted by Bachpan Bachao Andolan, which had brought up concerns regarding the protection afforded to victims under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.
After examining the documents, the Court observed that the requirement for a support person should not be subject to the parent’s discretion. In every instance, the availability of a support person and the right to request their assistance should be communicated to the parents.
What the Current Guidelines Include
In the conclusion of the order, the Court documented specific factors that NCPCR should consider when formulating the guidelines, emphasizing that these factors represent a comprehensive and complete list. As outlined in a report by LiveLaw, this includes:
- Mandating a consistent educational requirement for support persons, where the minimum qualification could involve having a bachelor’s degree along with pertinent experience in fields such as child psychology, social work, or child welfare, among others.
- The common practice of restricting the assignment of support persons to a specific number of cases within a time limit of three or five years should be discouraged.
- Each State should maintain a panel that includes NGOs and support persons, whose services can be utilized by the CWCs/JJBs.
Information on the remuneration, as well as the creation of an All India Portal which is accessible to JJBs and CWCs that mentions all the support persons available, is also included in the order.
The guidelines are to be completed and submitted to the Court within a strict eight-week timeline.