The Goa Children’s Act 2003 (GCA) came into being after a number of deliberations from all sections of society, from educationist, NGOs, lawyers, BDOs, anganwadi workers, teachers etc.

GCA 2003 was passed by the legislative assembly of Goa on the 30-4-2007, assented by the Governor on the 08-07-2007 and published by notification no. 7/19/2003/LA. It is the 18th Act of 2003 by the State of Goa. This act enshrines the principles of the UNCRC which are defined under the social, economic, cultural, civil and political rights. This act came under serious criticism by the stake holder in Goa. Presently a writ petition is filed which is pending before the Panaji Bench of Hon’ble High Court of Bombay challenging various provisions as unconstitutional. Due to various problems with the provision of the act, the GCA 2003 was amended twice i.e. in the year 2004 and 2005.

The GCA 2003 constitutes and empowers various semi governmental bodies to look into various provision of the GCA. This act empowers government personnel to take action against an offender. The Government of Goa under powers of appointment has appointed all Mamlatdars as special officers to look into violations and enforcement of the provision of the GCA.

Child under this act has been defined under section 2(d) as any person who has not completed eighteen years of age. But variations do exists in the GCA i.e. for child Labour it is 14 years, for rape it is 16 years and for other offence it is 18 years.

This Act has given a holistic approach to the victims in cases of Child abuse. Inspite of this holistic approach there are numerous instances where the police were hesitant to register a complaint in a case of child abuse.

GCA is the first state legislation under the UNCRC in India, the whole world knows about the GCA, but, in the year 2006 nearly three years after the implementation of GCA and constitution of the Children’s Court for the State Of Goa, cases of child abuse were still being heard in other courts.

GCA 2003 covers all types of abuse against children which are defined under section 2 (m)[1] and further the punishment has been provided under section 7, 8 and 9. This act also enshrines the principal of “Best interest of the Child” and empowers the officers for any action under this principal.

Inspite of this act there has been no change in the initial response at police stations towards victims and children in need of care and protection. At the police station the victim is repeatedly questioned about the incident. It’s only after the police inspector and other investigating officer are convinced, that the NGO is called in for assistance in supposedly counseling the child and to help in recording of the statement.

The GCA has recognised the importance of a social worker or an NGO’s presence while recoding of the victims statement[2]. Till date problems exist about the presence of NGOs while recording the victim’s statement. If one goes through some of the statements discrepancies exists. Most NGOs present while recording the victim’s statement do not know the importance of their role in the police station. They do not have the expertise in counseling, dont have a legal back ground, nor are they trained to record victim’s statement. The statement which is meant to play an important role in conviction is not recorded in child’s language and sometimes not in the sequence narrated by the victim.

GCA 2003 was enacted with the objective to protect, promote and preserve the best interests of Children in Goa and to create a society that is proud to be child friendly. With this objective, the act has looked into all the spheres of life of a child. This act provides protection to a child from abuse at home, school, shelter Homes, and from being trafficked.

Now children are protected from being abused at school. This act has banned corporal punishment in school[3] and has made education providers liable to provide, safe drinking water, sufficient toilets, counseling and admission for all children in absence of relevant documents under the principal of zero rejection.

Further, by protecting children at the shelter homes this act provides for liability and punishment to care givers in cases of abuse of children their custody[4]. And in cases of child abuse the act provide punishment of three years and liable to for fine upto one lakh.

Section 7 GCA 2003 prohibits child labour in the State of Goa. All children who have not completed the age of 14 are prohibited from all forms of work. The act covers all forms of labour. The down side of the prohibition of child labour is that the labour department is not able to take the necessary action under the GCA The labour dept denies their role under the GCA nor has the Government till date put any systems in place for rehabilitation of children rescued from child labur.

The GCA 2003 has its base still on the other major acts in India i.e. The Indian Penal Code 1860, the criminal procedure code 1973 and the Indian Evidence Act 1872 without which this act has no standing.

This act provides for stringent punishment to the offenders. This act has expanded abuse of a child and has defined them into child abuse, grave sexual assault and incest.

The GCA 2003 makes a person liable for imprisonment for three and a fine for of one lakh for keeping any child who is not related to him by blood and puts the onus on the establishment if any child is found in their premises.

Children’s Court has been constituted for the state of Goa in the year 2004. This constitution of the Children’s Court came only after filing of a writ petition by an NGO Bailacho Saad. With the intention of speedy trial and adoption of child friendly procedure this court was constituted. But the principle of Children Court can be found in the India Children’s Act 1960 but this legislation had been a forgotten piece of legislation. The GCA 2003 contains the procedures which are required to be adopted by the Children’s Court.

Conclusion

Victims of crime have always been a forgotten person in today’s society. Some where and some how the Goa children’s Act 2003 has tried to fight for their protection in this whole complicated system of Criminal justice. This act not only looked into the abuse of children in specific but it has attempted to place responsibilities on different stake holder in Goa. There has been no suo motto initiation of implementation of the Provision of GCA by the Goa Government. It is only after some representation by the stake holders that the government was forced to implement certain provision of the act. Till date various provisions of the act have still not been implemented thereby defeating the sole purpose of the act to protect children. I would recommend that the Children’s fund and the Victim Assistance Unit be constituted without delay and a committee of experts in the field of social science, mental health, and law be constituted to look into the provisions of the act which are been challenged before the Hon’ble high Court of Bombay at Panaji. In principal and reality it a duty on each any every one to protect child rights in Goa. I would end up by saying a quote which I firmly believe in by Martin Lutter King “OUR LIVES BEGIN TO END THE DAY WE BECOME SILENT ABOUT THINGS THAT MATTER.”

By Adv Emidio Pinho
[1] 2(m) “Child abuse” refers to the maltreatment, whether habitual or not, of the child which includes any of the following:-
(i)psychological and physical abuse, neglect, cruelty, sexual abuse and emotional maltreatment;
(ii) any act by deeds or words which debases, degrades or demeans the intrinsic worth and dignity of a child as a human being;
(iii) unreasonable deprivation of his basic needs for survival such as food and shelter; or failure to immediately give medical treatment to an injured child resulting in serious impairment of his growth and development or in his permanent incapacity or death;
[2] Section 32 (K) Child’s testimony or statement should be recorded in the presence of a social worker / counsellor as early as possible after the abusive incident with other witnesses at hand
[3] Section 4 (12) Corporal punishment is banned in all schools.
[4] Section 7 (18) Every Children’s Home shall ensure that no child under its care or custody is exposed to child abuse, or sexual offences or child trafficking or child prostitution or violation of its rights and that the best interest of all children are protected. Care givers shall also be personally responsible for the same.