Without designating Special Courts to hear offences involving sexual offences against children, implementation of Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act has been stymied in Tamil Nadu.
The POCSO Act which was notified in November 14, 2012, mandates the designation of certain courts as Special Courts to try cases. “ The Act cannot be implemented until the Special Courts are notified and a Special Public Prosecutor appointed,” says Vidya Reddy, Director, Tulir-Centre for the Prevention and Healing of Child Sexual Abuse, Chennai. “Cases can be filed under POCSO, but that is all. How can we move ahead with prosecution if the courts don’t exist,” she asks.
In recent weeks, provisions of POCSO Act have been invoked by the police in several districts whenever sexual offences against children have been reported. According to the Act , a Court of Session in each district has to be designated as Special Court for speedy trial of such cases. The evidence is to be recorded within 30 days and the Special Court must complete the trial within a year. The Act incorporates child-friendly procedures for reporting, recording of evidence, investigation and trial of offences.
A few States have already notified certain courts as Special Courts, including Delhi and Rajasthan. Govind Beniwal, member, Rajasthan State Committee for Protection of Child Rights, says the Government of Rajasthan has designated all districts and sessions courts as “Children Courts” under Section 25 of the Commission for Protection of Child Rights Act, 2005. These courts have also been designated as “Special Courts” under Section 28 of the POCSO Act.
Application of the Act itself is at a very nascent stage in the country, since it only came into existence on November 14, explains Anant Kumar Asthana, a Delhi-based lawyer working in the child rights segment. “The establishment of Special Courts and appointment of Special Prosecutors is must. It is a very central aspect of the Act to give an enabling and supportive environment to child victims in the court processes. Facing court processes has been a challenge for child victims and that is why it is important to have these authorities set up and functioning properly,” he adds.
He also projects reasons for the tardiness of several States in doing so. “One reason is the non-availability of a sufficient number of judges to preside over these Special Courts.” Mr. Asthana adds that the Act’s proper implementation depends on High Courts, Police Department, hospitals, and the Women and Child Development Department/ Social Welfare Departments. All of them have their responsibilities assigned under the Act and co-ordinating with these departments could also be responsible for the delays.
In Tamil Nadu, there seems to be a similar issue. Sources in the Social Defence Department say the task of designating Special Courts comes under the purview of the Law Department. Efforts are on to frame rules for the State, they add. However, as specified by the Act, the National and State Commissions for the Protection of Child Rights have been designated as monitoring authorities and in discharging their duty can nudge the governments into implementing the Act in its entirety.
“Without the courts, even the police can only do something up to a point. After that you are left hanging in the air,” says Ms. Reddy. Two hallmarks of the POCSO Act are: the calibration of a wide range of sexual offences and creating an enabling environment for the child victim. If you take the latter away, the law is quite useless.”