High pendency of child sexual abuse cases render POCSO a toothless law: Uttar Pradesh accounts for 25% of all cases under the Act

The huge number of cases that are pending in the courts under Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act 2012 has become a cause of concern as it is making this path-breaking law ineffective. The Supreme Court has been closely monitoring the status of cases filed under POCSO Act as it is concerned with the high rate of pendency which means it does not give speedy justice to victims of child sexual abuse.

Despite the Supreme Court asking states to submit status report, Madhya Pradesh, Assam and Haryana haven't submitted any report so far. In fact, the Supreme Court fined Madhya Pradesh Rs 10 lakh for not submitting status report twice — once on 25 July, 2019 and then again on 7 November, 2019.

States like Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal continue to ignore Supreme Court's directive to set up Special POCSO Fast Track Courts (FTC) despite extremely high pendency rates. In some districts in these two states, there are over 1,000 POCSO cases pending for over one year.

 High pendency of child sexual abuse cases render POCSO a toothless law: Uttar Pradesh accounts for 25% of all cases under the Act

Representational image.

It should be noted that as per the Act, trial in POCSO cases should be completed within a year but there are over 1.66 lakh cases of sexual abuse of children and rape cases pending in the courts. To speed up the trials, Supreme Court directed the government on 25 July, 2019 to set up 1,023 special POCSO courts exclusively to reduce the pendency but many states are yet to comply despite the fact that the funds for setting up such special Fast Track Courts (FTC) for POCSO cases will be allocated by the centre. In it's order on 25 July, 2019, the Supreme Court directed officials of each district where there were over 100 POCSO cases pending, telling them to set up at least one special FTC.

While reviewing the compliance status in POCSO cases, Supreme Court noted in its 16 December 2019 order that investigation in 20 percent of the cases were not even completed. It also noted that 2/3rd of the cases were pending trial for more than a year.

However, even if 1,023 fast track POCSO courts are set up, it might not be enough to reduce the pendency of POCSO cases, feel child rights experts. Dr Asha Bajpai, leading Child Rights expert, who is a professor of Law at Center for Law and Society, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, said, "To make Fast Track Courts more effective, judges, prosecutors, and staff of FTCs must be trained and sensitised towards child rights and the objectives and reasons of POCSO and its special procedures."

Adding that there must be witness protection services in place to protect the survivors and witnesses, Bajpai said that the entire criminal justice system must be overhauled and made friendly for child survivors.

There is also the fear that delay in trials will adversely affect victims. Commenting on this, Joseph Wesley, Head, Anti-Child Trafficking Program, World Vision India said, "Delay in the delivery of justice contributes to the continuation of trauma experienced by the survivors. In some cases, it also results in prolonged institutionalisation of children thereby depriving them nurturing family environment. Continuous delay also leads to gradual decline in the survivors' participation in the trial process resulting finally in pendency and acquittals. Relocation of survivors during the trial period also reduces the chance of successful prosecution."

On the other hand, the special Fast Track Courts for POCSO cases which have been set up are making a difference. Delhi-based advocate Chandra Suman, who has represented victims in many POCSO cases, said that there is a difference in Delhi where there are 27 POCSO courts set up. He said that now the hearings are held faster and trials are speeding up in POCSO cases.

The Supreme Court had asked the high courts to submit fresh status reports in POCSO cases in October 2019 but only 18 states and union territories submitted the reports. Observing that two states have huge pendency of POCSO cases, the court had passed special orders for Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.

Uttar Pradesh accounts for 25 percent of all POCSO cases in India which were pending for over one year and West Bengal also had high pendency of POCSO cases. In Uttar Pradesh, as many as 10 districts have over 1000 POCSO cases pending for over a year while in West Bengal one district has over 1600 pending cases, another has over 1200 pending cases and yet another has over 1,000 pending cases.

In both states, the Supreme Court said that it has passed separate order due to the extremely deplorable state of affairs in POCSO courts there. It said that these states are not concerned with the rights of children. The Supreme Court observed that though four months had passed since it asked the centre to set up special POCSO courts, virtually no efforts were made to set them up in Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.

Infact, the Supreme Court went so far as to say that if special orders were not passed, a situation would be reached where the judicial system in relations to POCSO cases could come to a grinding halt and if that happened then the Rule of Law would break down and people could resort to revenge and violence outside the court rooms.

Whether the steps being taken by the Supreme Court to reduce pendency in POCSO cases will have the desired result will have to be seen in the coming days. But a lot depends on the response of the various state governments to ensure that children who are sexually abused get the justice they deserve.

Here is a table of the status of POCSO cases in states were pendency is high and Supreme Court has observed that the state authorities have not done enough to set up Fast Track Court for POCSO cases exclusively

Sr no States/no. of districts Districts were over 100 cases pending over one year Districts were over 200 cases pending over one year Districts were over 400 cases and above pending over one year Other details and court observations
1 Andhra Pradesh/13 districts 8
2 Assam /27 districts 12 3 No exclusive POCSO courts, no Affidavit filed in SC
3 Bihar/38 districts 17 17 30 courts need to be set up but Bihar has not asked for funds from centre
4 Chhattisgarh/23 districts 11 3 Funds released by centre
5 Gujarat/32 districts 13 10
Haryana/22 districts 12 2 Nominated all sessions courts as POCSO courts but SC said exclusive POCSO courts should be set up. It censured the state and said it was sleeping over the matter. Funds release
6 Jharkhand/24 districts 6 8 POCSO courts set up
7 Karnataka/30 districts 17 8 Funds released for 17 courts
8 Kerala/14 districts 1 13 Funds for 14 courts released
9 Madhya Pradesh/50 districts 18 20 State fined Rs 10 lakhs by SC. State didn’t file report on July 25 or on November 13 either so court called it a deplorable state of affairs. 28 POCSO courts functioning and 26 to be set up. Funds released
10 Maharashtra/33 districts 4 26 30 POCSO courts to be set up. Funds released
11 Meghalaya/11 districts 1 1 4 existing POCSO courts, 5 to be set up
12 Odisha/30 districts 4 20 22 courts to be set up. Funds released
13 Punjab/22 district 1 1 Only 2 POCSO courts to be set up. Funds released
14 Rajasthan/35 districts 12 14 56 POCSO courts exist
15 Tamil Nadu/32 districts 16 8 16 POCSO courts exist
16 Telengana/10 districts 1 9 9 Fast track POCSO courts set up
17 Uttarakhand 1 3 4 courts exist and 4 to be set up
18 Mizoram/11 districts 1 3 POCSO courts to be set up
19 Uttar Pradesh/74 district 5 18 19
16->600 cases
06->800 cases
10->1000 case
44,000 cases pending -25% of all pending cases in India. 218 courts to be 74 exclusive POCSO courts
20 West Bengal/20 districts 1 2 9-200-400 cases
4-400-600 cases
SC said both UP and WB had extremely deplorable state of affairs as far as POCSO cases are concerned. It said the two states not concerned about rights of children and that the situation was alarming

This article is part of a media fellowship awarded by World Vision India for doing articles on Child Sexual Abuse and related matters

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Updated Date: Jan 09, 2020 19:29:37 IST