New Delhi: More often than not, the travails of a rape survivor begin after the rape—a conclusion arrived at by a study of verdicts given by courts in child rape cases.
The study by the National Law School of India University (NLSIU) on special courts established under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act in Delhi found that the behaviour of police, doctors and lawyers has not changed much since the law was passed.
The report found that there were no courtrooms exclusively for child-abuse cases, few courts had separate rooms for recording witness statements, and there were no waiting rooms or toilets nearby, despite the law’s provisions.
From the point a crime is reported, to medical examination, to the time taken for the investigation, to recording statements, to legal proceedings, and then finally the judgment, the treatment meted out to survivors and the ordeal that families have to go through is shocking.
With the introduction of a specific law to tackle child sexual abuse in 2012, till 2014, the number of crimes reported against children increased from 38,172 to 89,423. However, conviction rates were as low as 2.4%, according to the National Crime Records Bureau.
The NLSIU report analysed special court verdicts between April and September last year and found that only one in six cases resulted in conviction. Convictions were handed down in 112 cases under the POCSO Act while 555 others ended in acquittal. In 46 cases, the accused was convicted under the Indian Penal Code, but acquitted under the Act.
“Geographical representation, rate of rape of children, and unique features such as vulnerable witness rooms in Delhi were some of the factors (why the study was carried out in the national capital first). Similar studies are planned for Karnataka, Assam, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh," said Swagata Raha, senior legal researcher at the National Law School.
The report said that about 28% of cases dragged on for longer than a year. In 67% of cases, the child victims gave up on the trials, changed their statements or rescinded their complaints because of threats from the families of those accused of sexual abuse.
The report also said that except for Saket and Karkardooma courts, defence lawyers in most other special courts pose questions to the child directly. The POCSO Act prohibits the special public prosecutor and the defence lawyer from putting questions to the child directly. All questions during the examination-in-chief and cross-examination must be routed through the special court.
The team studied 667 judgments passed by 20 judges from 1 January 2013 till 30 September 2015.
“It is true that all the POCSO court judges are not sensitive despite the training. Health professionals have not changed despite the law. Only four hospitals in Delhi have one-stop crisis centres and we are not sure how effective or good these are. The survivors remain appalled for reasons that are not only related to the justice system, which is long and arduous... but changing social attitudes is a huge challenge still. Incest cases still continue to be the hardest to deal with," said Enakshi Ganguly, co-director at HAQ: Centre for Child Rights in Delhi, a non-governmental organisation.
Even though the law states that evidence should be recorded within 30 days of the special court taking cognizance of the offence, in 69% of the cases studied, the trial was completed within a year, while in 28%, it took over a year. In 3% of the cases, the time taken to complete the trial was over two years. As per Section 35(2) of the POCSO Act, as far as possible, the trial should be completed within one year of the court taking cognizance of the offence. None of the judgments studied indicated a reason for the delay in recording of evidence.
While Section 36(1) of the POCSO Act requires the special court to ensure that the child is not exposed to the accused while testifying, the report said a confrontation nearly always takes place when the child is waiting outside the courtroom, other than in Saket and Karkardooma.
Also, the courtrooms in Saket and Karkardooma have a separate entrance for children, a waiting room, audio-visual facilities, a separate room to record evidence, and toilets within the vicinity of the courtrooms. These facilities are not yet available in Tis Hazari, Patiala House, Dwarka and Rohini courts of Delhi.