Justice in POCSO cases a long way off in Gujarat: Lack of implementation of Act makes it ineffective deterrent

While cases registered under Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) of 2012 are constantly on the rise, the low conviction rate is almost negating the effectiveness of this path-breaking act. In Gujarat, the acquittal rate in POCSO cases is many times higher than the conviction rate which is in single digits and much lower than the national rate. Meanwhile, cases registered under the Act are steadily on the rise in Gujarat as in the rest of India.

This is attributed often to the increase in awareness which means more cases are being reported but also there are so many brutal gang rapes being reported. In Gujarat, recently there have been several cases of brutal rapes though the state is perceived to be safe for women and children. But, in 2017 the number of rapes and kidnappings and abductions of minor girls in Gujarat increased almost double as compared to 2016 according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). The number of rapes in 2017 of minor girls was 493 and the kidnappings and abductions stood at 2514.

The number of cases registered under POCSO Act in Gujarat have been steadily rising. But the conviction rate is low and the acquittal rate is high.

POCSO  cases in Gujarat
Year Registered Cases Convicted cases Acquittal Cases
2012 248 26 77
2013 344 53 249
2014 1,647 68 435
2015 2,021 56 412
2016 2,055 40 212
2017 2,215 18 110
Total 10,477 276 1,596

Source: Gujarat Police

So while in 2.61 percent of the cases, there was a conviction, 15.2 percent of cases saw acquittals. And 82.19 percent cases are pending in either investigation or in the courts.

Explaining the increase in the number of cases, Additional Director-General of Police Anil Pratham of the Crime Branch in Gujarat said, "The increase in the number of cases being reported is due to the awareness we have been able to create through various training and awareness programs along with NGOs and Friends of the Police." He felt that the increase in the number of cases did not necessarily mean that there was an increase in the rate of sexual offences against children.

But justice in cases already registered under POCSO is a far cry going by the high rate of pendency in the courts in Gujarat. According to analysis by the Kailash Satyarathi Children Foundation, it will take 55 years to complete the trial of pending POCSO cases as on 2016 (based on case-disposal rates) in Gujarat, which is second only to Arunachal Pradesh, where it will take 101 years at the current rate of disposal of POCSO cases to complete the pending cases as of 2016.

 Justice in POCSO cases a long way off in Gujarat: Lack of implementation of Act makes it ineffective deterrent

Representational image. AFP

The state coordinator of Bachapan Bachhao Andolan in Gujarat Shital Pradeep said, "To improve the conviction rate, it is important to speed up both investigation and trial in court so that the survivor is not put under pressure to turn hostile. Families and the survivors, who are just children, are under tremendous pressure to not pursue cases under POCSO."

Speaking about the implementation of POCSO Act in Gujarat, legal activist, researchers and founder of Peace and Equality Cell Prita Rani Jha said, "There are problems in the proper implementation of the POCSO Act across India. In Gujarat, the government has only recently notified for a support person for survivors under the POCSO Act. The law provides for a support person whose role it is to provide the required help and support to the survivors and their families, but in most states there is no support person. Also once support persons have been selected, they need to be trained to ensure that they know their roles and provide the help families need throughout the investigation and the trial process." Jha is working on access to justice for cases of unconstitutional violence.

The Head of the Anti-Child Trafficking Program, World Vision India, Joseph Wesley felt that to make POCSO an effective deterrent, the implementation of the Act needs to be improved. He said, "The trial in POCSO cases should be completed in one year but instead there is a huge number of cases pending in the courts. Also the entire process needs to be more children-friendly. Often the survivors are blamed for the abuse. The police and the trail process are often hostile to the survivors."

Mr Wesley said, "The mandatory reporting in POCSO cases is a good step but due to the increase in the quantum of punishment upto the death penalty often families don't report the crime especially where incest is concerned as they fear for their husbands, sons and other relatives."

Another aspect that should be taken into consideration is that very many child sexual abuse survivors do not report about their abuse to anyone. The Child Abuse Report 2007 of the Ministry of Women and Child Development of Government of India found that 72 percent of children never told anyone about the abuse they were suffering; so as awareness increases, the chances of increase of cases registered under POCSO are likely to keep increasing as has been evident till now. Cases have steadily risen each year.

In India, over one lakh cases have been registered under the POCSO Act between 2014 and 2016. There were 34,449 cases registered in 2014, 34,505 in 2015 and 36,022 in 2016, but what is alarming is that there are 1,12,628 cases under POCSO pending in the courts and according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), the rate of pendency of POCSO cases is 89 percent while the conviction rate is 29.6 percent.

According to a report by National Law University Bangalore where 667 judgments were analysed, survivors turned hostile in 67.5 % cases. This figure is much higher when family members are the accused and the longer a case is pending in the court, the higher the chances of the survivors turning hostile, felt many social activists working to ensure that Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) cases are reduced in India.

This article is part of the series on child sexual abuse under a fellowship by World Vision India.

Updated Date: Sep 28, 2018 21:21:46 IST