The Supreme Court order to provide special courts for POCSO cases would be a relief once implemented
There are 9000 cases of Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) pending in Kerala, the NHRC chairperson told The Lede.
“The number of POCSO cases are a little high in Kerala. We will instruct Kerala High Court and other agencies to prioritise such cases for speedy trials,” HL Dutta, the chairperson of National Human Rights Commission, told The Lede.
The NHRC chairperson and his office is in Kerala to hold a full commission hearing.
The NHRC chairperson’s comment comes when the Kerala government is being criticised by opposition parties and civil rights societies on its failures in handling the Walayar case where two young Dalit girls, aged 13 and 9, were found hanging dead reportedly after being raped in 2017.
In a shocker to the Dalit parents, the POCSO court in Palakkad district had acquitted the accused in the case citing that the prosecution was not able to prove their involvement in the case.
Initially there were seven accused in the case. Four out of the seven were acquitted. The third accused was freed due to lack of evidence on September 30. And last Friday, three of them were released.
Unfortunately, the mother did not even know that Friday was the judgement day, as The Lede had reported.
Meanwhile, State Crime Record Bureau data reveals that the number of POCSO cases ranged between 2500 and 3000 every year since 2016.
In 2019, till September, there were 2514 cases being registered under POCSO in Kerala.
And in 2018, it was 3179 and in 2017, it was 2697. Meanwhile, in 2016, it was 2122.
Aleyamma Vijayan, Secretary at Sakhi Resource Centre for Women, said that awareness of rights in Kerala might be leading to the increase in number of cases, however, pending in delivering justice may be due to many reasons.
“The current POCSO system may be insufficient in handling the cases. So, it may be leading to delays in resolving cases,” she added.
Meanwhile, Sandhya Janardhanan Pillai, a lawyer and former member at Kerala State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, said that the cases are pending as the courts are overburdened heavily.
“There is no special rule that certain cases should be considered first. So these POCSO cases will not get special preference. And eventually, as the courts are overburdened with existing cases, the turn to consider fresh cases will take its own time,” Sandhya said.
According to Sandhya, there are three special courts in the state to consider atrocities against women and children.
“Those three courts in Thiruvananthapuram, Ernakulam and Kozhikode who are handling woman and children atrocities cases are also overburdened,” Sandhya said adding that they are hopeful because of a Supreme Court order regarding POCSO cases.
This year in July, the Supreme Court ordered the central government to set up exclusive courts in every district of the country to deal with cases related to child abuse and sexual assault.
At present, there are no courts set up exclusively for dealing with POCSO cases.
A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi suggested that the government should make available the money needed for setting up these courts in districts which have more than 100 such cases pending.
According to the order, such courts will be set up under a Central scheme and will be funded by the Central Government, which fund will not only take care of the appointment of the Presiding Officer, but also the appointments of support persons, Special Public Prosecutors, court staff and infrastructure including creation of child-friendly environment and vulnerable witness Court rooms, etc.
The court order adds that while drawing up the panel(s) of support persons in each district which should not exceed a reasonable number keeping in mind the total number of cases to be tried by the special court to be set up in each district, care should be taken to appoint persons who are dedicated to the cause and apart from academic qualifications are oriented towards child rights; are sensitive to the needs of a child and are otherwise child friendly.
“The same standards would also apply in the matter of appointment of Special Public Prosecutors,” the court order added.
Interestingly, in an affidavit filed by Rajasthan in the Supreme Court, the state said that it has set up exclusive POCSO Courts in each and every district.
And on Oct 01, the Supreme Court has said that the States and the RGs of all High Courts are directed to file affidavits on or before 07.11.2019 in which they will tell the number of districts in the state, number of districts in which the POCSO cases are more than 100, number of districts where POCSO cases are more than 200 or multiples of 200 i.e. 400, 600, 800 etc.
And the court also asked the authorities to list down the number of exclusive POCSO Courts already functioning, if any, number of POCSO Courts actually notified and number of Special Public Prosecutors, if any, exclusively assigned for POCSO Courts.
“If the states act as per the Supreme Court order, then there is hope,” Sandhya added.
Meanwhile, in the Walayar case, the Kerala high court on Friday dismissed a petition seeking a fresh probe by CBI.
The court has said that only when the verdict issued by the POCSO court is cancelled, it will take up the matter.
However, the High Court observed that government still has the provision to file an appeal against the verdict.
Palakkad POCSO court had pronounced verdict on the case, acquitting the accused due to lack of evidence.