Is a Parent mandatorily required to report offences under the POCSO Act

Sexual harassment, abuse and sexual assault against young children are on the rise and to ensure protection of children rights and to strengthen reporting and enforcement provisions, the Hon’ble Punjab and Haryana High Court has recently held in the case of Surjeet Khanna vs. State of Haryana and Another (CRM-M-36154-2023) that even the parents of young children are mandatorily required to report offences under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (“POCSO Act”).

Facts

The deceased minor victim had committed suicide blaming the school authorities for taking such extreme step. The victim’s mother alleged that the victim was subjected to harassment, bullying, torture etc. A complaint was also made to the school management, but no action was taken.

The victim’s mother lodged a First Information Report inter alia under Section 21 of the POCSO Act against the school management and the principal, which provision inter alia provides for the punishment for failure to report under the POCSO Act.

During the proceedings, the accused principal filed an application for taking cognizance against mother of the deceased child under Section 21 of the POCSO Act contending inter alia that the mother was also aware of the commission of the offences under the POCSO Act against the child much before the school management considering she had sent an e-mail in accordance with the school’s child protection policy to the accused (amongst others) and that she was equally responsible. Thus, the accused prayed that the victim’s mother should also be summoned as an accused to face trial.

High Court’s Verdict

The Hon’ble High Court, after taking note of Sections 19 and 21 of the POCSO Act, was of the view that the use of the word ‘shall’ in Section 19(1) of the POCSO Act makes the intention of the legislature clear that it is mandatory for any person who has an apprehension that an offence under the POCSO Act is likely to be committed; or has knowledge that such an offence has been committed, to inform about the said offence either to the Special Juvenile Police Unit or the local police. The Court emphasised that it is irrespective of the fact as to whether the concerned person having knowledge of the offence is part of an institution or the parent of the child or a friend etc. Section 21 of the POCSO Act provides punishment for failure to report or record a case.

The High Court further held that in this case “it clear that the mother-Axx had knowledge about the commission of offences covered under POCSO Act, much prior to when the information was given to the school authorities. As such, prima facie, the mother was mandatorily required to inform the local police or the SJPU about the same as per Section 19 of the POCSO Act.”

The High Court also held that statutory provisions would take precedence over the school’s child protection policy.

Conclusion

Delay in reporting by an institution/school on the pretext of any internal investigation is a common practice. However, many a times a parent is aware of this abuse and the above judgment has brought urgency in reporting against an offence under the POCSO Act including by a parent in the interest of protection of the victim and providing the child a safe and secure environment for growth and development. Irrespective of the relationship of the person to the child, it is essential that such a person (including the parent) who has apprehension that an offence under the POCSO Act is likely to be committed or has knowledge that such an offence has been committed must mandatorily report it immediately to the Special Juvenile Police Unit or the local police.