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Abhinav Garg,TNN | Jul 22, 2014, 03.42 AM IST
National Crime Records Bureau figures reveal that nearly 85% cases of child rape continue to be pending in various courts across India.
NEW DELHI: Only 15.3 per cent of all cases relating to sexual offences against children in 2013 saw completion of trials in that year and the conviction rate for such crimes was a low 31.5 per cent, latest figures released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) reveal.
Nearly 85 per cent cases of child rape continue to be pending in various courts across India, according to the report.
Extreme reluctance of parents to bring their victimized children to courts, inability to ensure their anonymity and conflicting testimonies by kids scarred by assault are some of the primary reasons why sex crime cases against children tend to linger on.
But the biggest reason according to experts, including lawyers, activists and child counsellors is the tendency of the government to enact special laws for which it is unable to allocate required resources to enable implementation by the judiciary.
For instance, despite bringing in a "stringent" law such as 'The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO)', there has been a jump in sex crimes against children. And, most district court complexes across the country are yet to get a dedicated sessions court for POCSO or independent special public prosecutors as envisaged under the Act that came into force in November 2012.
Section 28 of the POCSO Act makes it mandatory for state government to establish "a court of session to be special court in every district" while section 32 mandates appointment of "special public prosecutors".
Child rights lawyer Anant Asthana squarely blamed the Centre and state governments for high pendency of sex crime trials in courts. "The main reason for the high pendency is that the government doesn't invest in improving the justice delivery system. They legislate frequently but don't give the required infrastructure," he said.
"Supreme Court has observed in its report on national court management system that government legislates but doesn't provide financial allocation. So far the trend has been to meet any concern by bringing a new law. But if there is no allocation how can new magistrates be appointed, courtrooms be built and prosecutors recruited?" Asthana argued.
Judges who have dealt with cases of sexual offences against children agree. "The judicial process can't be set aside in the name of speedy trial. The rights of the accused have to be respected and due process needs to be followed. Parents don't want their already scared children to appear in courts and again face the accused. The overall ambience of a court where the child has to depose as a witness can hardly be termed friendly. The court has to handle the child witness very carefully and requires counselors and psychologists to reassure the kid," a judge explained.
Advocate Gaurav Kumar Bansal, who filed a PIL in Delhi HC demanding special courts and prosecutors under POCSO Act, isn't surprised by the alarming figures thrown up by NCRB. "An estimated 150 million girls and 73 million boys under 18 years have experienced forced sexual intercourse or other forms of sexual violence involving physical contact. Last year, on my PIL, HC had directed government to appoint independent special prosecutors. But Delhi government has attached regular prosecutors to POSCO courts. This shows action taken towards child safety is a mere eyewash," Bansal, who is planning to file a contempt petition in HC, said.
A measure of just how challenging it can be for a child victim to participate in a court trial can be taken from a visit to India's first child witness court inaugurated two years ago at Delhi's Karkarduma court complex. Designed to be kid friendly, the court boasts of a child play area and one-way mirror window from where the child would be shielded from the gaze of the accused. While the accused sits separately, child witnesses get attendants and the judge's dais, usually 4-5 ft high from the ground, is lowered to make them feel comfortable.
The child witness court, however, remains the only solace for the capital which as per the NCRB report is the most unsafe metro for children. On an average, 16 children in Delhi suffer some or the other crime every day and latest report shows Delhi registered the maximum cases of crimes against children at 6,124. Among the states, Uttar Pradesh topped the list with 9,857 cases of crimes against kids while Maharashtra is on the second spot with 8,247 cases.