Cases registered over four years to 2016 under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012, a law meant to protect children and hasten prosecution, will end only by 2022 based on the current rate of disposal, according to a new study.
Gujarat and Arunachal Pradesh, which reported the greatest backlog, will take 55 and 101 years, respectively, to finish with such cases, according to a study by Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation (KSCF), an advocacy run by an Indian Nobel laureate.
The number of cases registered under POCSO increased 151 percent from 2009 to 2014, IndiaSpend reported on August 22, 2015.
More than 104,976 cases were registered between 2014-2016, according to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data.
While only 10 percent trials were completed, the conviction rate was 30 percent for 2016.
Keeping the disposal rate of 2016 (10 percent) constant, some states such as Punjab and Nagaland would take about two years, while states such as Gujarat and Arunachal Pradesh would take more than 50 years to complete the cases registered until 2016.
Until 2012, when POCSO was passed, sexual offences against children were covered under three sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC): Rape under Section 376, outraging modesty of a woman under Section 354 and unnatural sexual acts under Section 377.
With the introduction of POCSO, other forms of harassment were also included. Most importantly, the Act was made gender-neutral, and specifically designed to protect child rights and ensure the judicial system would be child-friendly.
Investigations by the police should be completed within two months and the trials within six months, according to amendments made to the POCSO Act and the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) by an ordinance in May 2018.
The Supreme Court later ordered high courts to ensure POCSO cases were heard by designated special courts, allowed no adjournments by POCSO judges and constituted special investigative task forces by state police chiefs, the Hindu reported on 1 May 2018.
Why Cases Are Pending Under POCSO
“There has been a rise in the number of cases being registered because of increased awareness and mandatory reporting,” said Yashwant Jain, member of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), which oversees POCSO.
NCPCR, under the ministry of women and child development, monitors investigations, trials, and establishes child welfare committees, special courts and public prosecutors.
“This has led to the number of cases being more against the number of courts present to deal with them,” said Jain.
“Apart from delays in police investigations, poor working strength of the judiciary adds to the pendency,” Subhadra Menon, executive director, research, KSCF, told IndiaSpend. “Sometimes, priority is given to cases registered under different sections of the IPC over cases registered under POCSO.”
Only 559 special courts are in place (84 percent) and only 438 (65 percent) special public prosecutors have been appointed out of the 665 designated district-wise courts/prosecutors, NCPCR data show.
Constituting special courts and appointing public prosecutors does not mean that the staff increases or is even exclusive in handling POCSO cases. They are also burdened with work from regular courts, according to a 2017 study by the National Law School of India.
“There is also a delay in getting the forensic science laboratory (FSL) report, which further forces the police investigation to postpone their deadline,” Jain said.
Due to inadequate staff and infrastructure at forensic labs, 12,072 DNA samples and as many cases were pending in six central forensic labs till December 2017, the Hindustan Times reported on 26 April 2018.
Another major reason for the delay in investigations is the shortage of police personnel, said Surya Prakash BS, programme director, DAKSH, an advocacy group.
As on 1 January 2016, India was short of 500,000 police personnel, according to data from the Bureau of Police Research and Development.
“The case life cycle is at the discretion of the parties and their lawyers,” Surya said. “It is often delayed due to the adjournments from the petitioner’s side.”
Although adjournments are not allowed under the POCSO Act, they are allowed. “Senior judges should ensure that the Act is followed, which it never is, and hence cases remain pending,” Surya said.
Delay in justice has an adverse effect on survivors. “They suffer a range of psychological problems resulting in self-blame and self-harm, lack of confidence, fear and attempt to suicide,” Menon said.
(The author is a post-graduate in social work, is an intern with IndiaSpend.)
(This article was first published on IndiaSpend and has been republished with permission.