A light blue jacket could help change children’s perception of the police, child rights experts and Assam Police officials said on Friday, a day after they launched Sishu Mitra, an ambitious collaborative programme to holistically change how the men in khaki interact with young people.
The joint programme by the Assam Police, UNICEF and UTSAH (Universal Team for Social Action and Help), a child rights non-governmental organisation was launched by Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal.
The campaign’s multi-pronged strategy included equipping cops with a child friendly police kit including jackets and a Do’s & Dont’s manual, training police officials in child laws and soft skills in all the 33 districts of Assam, child friendly police corners in all the police stations, and mental health support for police officials to address stress, anxiety and depression.
According to National Crime Records Bureau, Assam ranked 12 in the country in 2016 for its high rate of crime against children.
Miguel Das Queah, executive director of UTSAH explained how police in other states, too, are taking up child friendly measures, but the jacket and the mental health support to the cops the first initiatives of this kind in the country.
The POCSO Act 2012, mandates the police to not wear their uniform while recording the statement of children. However, due to paucity of time and other practical constraints this procedure is often overlooked as Queah realised way back in 2013 when the idea of a child friendly jacket germinated.
Cops had come to his office to record a statement of a 7-year-old victim of sexual assault wearing their uniforms citing paucity of time. Queah said the victim refused to meet them till he went home and fetched one of his jackets and gave a policeman to wear it. The mother of the child then told her that the cops were from the children friendly police.
“It worked and the child opened up in front of the policemen,” Queah said recalling the incident adding how the case ended in a conviction.
The light blue jackets with “Child Friendly Police Officer” written in English and Assamese on the back will be first used in Guwahati as part of the pilot project where the cops would also be trained on how they should behave when they are dealing with children.
With mental health of policemen a big concern, UTSAH and UNICEF will provide group therapy and personal counselling services for officials across the state. “A phone counseling helpline is already functional,” Queah said.
According to UNICEF India Country Representative Yasmin Ali Haque who spoke at the launch event of Thursday, the role of the police is not restricted to gathering evidence in investigations. “Having child friendly police forces will go a long way towards establishing procedures as prescribed by the law. This requires an additional skill set, capacity, and familiarity of child-friendly approaches with an emphasis on understanding child psychology,” she said.
Harmeet Singh, the Additional Director General of Police who is closely involved with the programme said the year long programme will work in conjunction with project MOITRI to modernise the police not only in terms of infrastructure but also in soft skills and attitude. “The jacket and the kit are just the beginning,” he said.
“The measures will be helpful. These jackets for example will take away the fear of the police. Children already in trauma are scared of the cops in uniform,” said Nimi Borgohain, a child psychologist in Guwahati.