In rarest of rare cases, Delhi Police has booked a 4-year-old boy for sexually assaulting his classmate of the same age at their school last week.
According to the complaint filed by the parents of the 4-year-old victim, the student of Delhi's Maxfort School in Dwarka was sexually assaulted twice by a five-year-old boy on Friday. While the one alleged assault took place in the toilet, the second happened in the classroom. Accusing school authorities of negligence, the parents alleged, no one from the school staff was present when the assaults took place.
According to complaint quoted by several news reports, the victim told her parents that the boy opened her pants in the bathroom and put his finger inside her private parts. Reports also said the accused inserted pencil inside her private parts even though she had tried to push him away.
When the girl complained of pain to her parents, the girl was taken to a hospital where doctors confirmed it to be a case of sexual assault.
The case has left police baffled. Even though an FIR has been registered against the accused classmate at Dwarka police station, police is unsure of how to go forward in the case. On the other hand, experts have warned police to handle the case with "caution" and "proper care."
As far as the law goes, Section 82 of Indian Penal Code states: Nothing is an offence which is done by a child under seven years of age. Which effectively means that the law doesn't recognize that a child below the age of seven can have criminal intent. In other words, there can be no prosecution or trial in any case where the accused is below seven years of the age.
While the clause makes it wrong to lodge an FIR against a four-year-old accused, a Hindustan Times report said, police were just acting on the "policy of registering a FIR without delay."
"The FIR can be cancelled, but there should be no delay in lodging a complaint. The case was registered only after proper legal consultation. We were thoroughly professional in our work while staying sensitive to the fact that the victim as well as the suspect were small children," Dependra Pathak, Delhi Police's chief spokesperson reasoned to HT.
How will law deal with it?
However, the question arises how can the police investigate such an incident in the first place. In order to commit a crime, an individual must have the developed sense of right and wrong and he/she should have a criminal intent. Which is something entirely absent in the present case, at least technically. Even the special law of Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act recognizes the intention behind a crime for trial and prosecution of the accused.
As child psychiatry Professor Rajesh Sagar of AIIMS, while referring to the accused boy, explained to The Indian Express: the age of four is too young to have the cognitive ability to understand sexuality."
"First, we have to understand his behaviour — if it was impulsive or if he was imitating something. We also need to understand what is happening around him...Sometimes, such a young child just reacts to what is happening in the environment. The child has seen a cartoon or plays a game, and tries to imitate them. Since a child of that age spends most of his time with the family, it is very important to know what is happening at home. Therefore, interaction with the parents is very crucial...", the professor added.
But there are other questions. Can the child be questioned through usual police investigating methods? Since the accused is a four-year-old boy, are the police officials enough trained or equipped to extract the version of four-year-old accused? What if he was under someone else's influence since there's a high chance of a young child imitating others? How will it be established in the court of law? And importantly, if the sexual assault has actually taken place, what kind of punishment maybe awarded to the child since the accused can't be prosecuted under law? What about the justice of the victim then?
Handle with care
Many child experts have recommended police to involve child counselors and lawyers who deal with minors-related cases.
"We must understand that it is absolutely not possible for a four-year-old to understand sexual behaviour. Is there a possibility of a sexual need being fulfilled in his case? Absolutely not," Samir Parikh, director, department of mental health and behavioural sciences, Fortis Healthcare, told HT.
On Thursday, Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (DCPCR) issued summons to the principal and three other staff members of the school where the assault took place. While school authorities have said that they are cooperating with the police and have handed over the CCTV footage to them, parents of the victim alleged that school authorities were not forthright in dealing with the issue initially.
The school authorities will appear before the DCPCR on November 27.