Sexually abused by foster father for months, child awaits justice

NEW DELHI:A child care institution from Assam has approached central agencies for help in a shocking case of alleged sexual abuse of a child by her foster father.

shalender@tribune.com

Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service
New Delhi, December 23

A child care institution from Assam has approached central agencies for help in a shocking case of alleged sexual abuse of a child by her foster father.

Silchar-based Nivedita Naari Sansthan (NNS) has written to Central Adoption Resource Agency (CARA) under the Ministry of Women and Child Development among other agencies about their struggle to get justice for a child who was placed in foster care on May 9 this year and curiously returned by the family on August 30 after months of alleged sexual assault by the foster father.

It was only after the child returned to her original home NNS after being surrendered by the foster family that she revealed the horrors faced at the foster home in Karimganj. Despite her statement narrating repeated sexual assault over months, Assam police have not booked the accused under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) Act. This law defines child sexual abuse as a grave, cognisable and non-bailable offence. All NNS managed in the matter is an FIR under Section 354 IPC (molestation) against accused Gopal Das, a government employee in Assam.

Worse still, Assam police conducted an ossification test on the girl after she was surrendered and say she is not a minor. “The girl is not a child. So the provisions of POCSO Act won’t apply. Her medical examination doesn’t reveal sexual assault. We are probing the matter,” Sub-Inspector Nilima Singh of Karimganj police station told The Tribune today refusing further comments.

Strangely, the foster care order issued by Child Welfare Committee, Cachar, clearly shows the girl’s age as 13 years so do the records of NNS, where the child was brought after being rescued from streets in 2017.

“The girl is a minor. It’s a shocking case where the foster mother knew of the assault all the time but did nothing except that she surrendered the child on August 30 without giving reasons. We lodged the FIR on September 6 after the child told us of the assault. The police didn’t invoke the POSCO Act,” says Diba Roy of NNS, the complainant in the case.

With several lapses coming to light, chief of CARA, India’s apex adoption and foster care reviewing agency, is now all set to write to Karimganj district administration for invocation of the POCSO Act against the accused.

“The district administration should answer some questions. How did the Child Welfare Committee in question place the child in foster care with this family? How did the CWC declare this family fit as per the 2015 Foster Care Guidelines under Juvenile Justice Act? NNS has written to us saying the girl flagged her foster father’s physical behavior to the CWC which, instead of withdrawing her immediately from the family, counseled her and sent her back. Thirdly, even after NNS confirmed sexual assault of the child, the CWC failed to lodge an FIR and NNS had to lodge one. Lastly, if the child is a major as the police claim, how was she placed in foster care, a programme meant for children?” CARA chief Deepak Kumar asks.

Child safety experts also say the police have no business conducting ossification test on a child victim or subject her to a medical examination to determine rape. Former member, National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, Vinod Tikoo says, “Further, POSCO Act says the police have to register a case under the law if the child says she was sexually assaulted. A medical examination is not needed. The onus to prove otherwise is on the accused.”

Case from Assam

Centre takes note of a shocking case from Assam after a Silchar-based NGO flags the issue that exposes grave lapses across levels from the child welfare committee down to local police; minor shown as major to help the accused escape POCSO Act; question being asked - if the girl was indeed a major how was she placed in foster care?

About foster care

India introduced foster care programme for the first time under the Juvenile Justice Care and Protection Act 2015. The aim is to de-institutionalise child care. Children who cannot be adopted for some reason are sent into foster care, a temporary shelter plan, after the CWC conducts home checks and declares a family fit.

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