Supreme Court wants trials in child sexual abuse cases to be fast-tracked

Supreme Court shocked by high rate of pendency of child sexual assault cases

May 01, 2018 05:28 pm | Updated May 02, 2018 12:54 am IST - New Delhi

Wake-up call A child looks on as residents of Powai hold a candlelight march demanding justice for the Kathua and Unnao rape victims on Monday. Prashant Waydande

Wake-up call A child looks on as residents of Powai hold a candlelight march demanding justice for the Kathua and Unnao rape victims on Monday. Prashant Waydande

Shocked by the high rate of pendency of child sexual assault cases, the Supreme Court directed High Courts to set up panels of its judges to regulate and monitor trials under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.

The Supreme Court, which had ordered a review of the backlog under POCSO, found that States such as Uttar Pradesh have over 30,000 cases pending despite the child protection law coming into existence as early as 2012.

Many States have not yet even set up Special Courts to try POCSO cases as mandated by the law.

Bad implementation

In February, a three-judge Bench led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra found the implementation of POCSO in a shambles and decided to review the issue. The Bench was hearing the case of rape of an eight-month-old child in the National Capital.

The PIL petition filed by Alakh Alok Srivastava said child rapists should be awarded the death penalty.

Though the government was initially against the death penalty in child rape cases, saying “death penalty is not an answer for everything,” the rape of an eight-year-old in Kathua proved to be the last straw and the government recently promulgated an ordinance allowing courts to pronounce death penalty to those found guilty of raping children up to 12 years of age.

Speedy justice

Additional Solicitor General Pinky Anand, for the government, informed the court about the ordinance. She submitted that it warrants investigation to be completed in two months and courts to dispose of appeals in six months, ensuring speedy justice to victims. But the court said the POCSO statistics showed that children and victims in many States were still waiting in the corridors of courts for justice.

The Bench, also comprising Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and D.Y. Chandrachud, issued a series of directions which supplement the ordinance. These include: the State police chiefs should constitute special task forces to investigate cases, High Courts should ensure that they are tried and disposed of by the designated Special Courts under the Act; POCSO judges will give no adjournments and make every effort to fast-track trial, witnesses should be produced in court on the day of the hearing and high courts should make every effort to provide a child-friendly atmosphere in tune with the spirit of the Act.

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