Situation of probe & trial in child sexual offence cases 'shocking': SC

Situation of probe & trial in child sexual offence cases shocking: SC

Terming as "shocking" the "state of affairs" in dealing with cases of sexual offences against children, the Supreme Court

New Delhi: Terming as "shocking" the "state of affairs" in dealing with cases of sexual offences against children, the Supreme Court has directed the Centre and all state governments to play "a much more proactive role" in ensuring speedy probes and completion of trials of such cases within a year. The top court, which had taken suo motu note of an "alarming rise" in the number of rape incidents against children, had already passed a slew of directions including setting up of a Centrally-funded designated court in each district having over 100 FIRs under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, to deal exclusively with such cases.

A bench headed by then Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, on November 13, took note of the report prepared by Surinder S Rathi, Registrar of the Supreme Court, and said the POCSO Act provides that the trials in cases of sexual offences against children have to be completed within a year. "This report shows a shocking state of affairs. What to talk of trials, in 20 per cent of the cases even investigation is not completed within one year. "Virtually, no support persons are provided and no compensation is paid to the victims. Almost two-third of the cases are pending trial for more than one year," said the bench which also comprised Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna.

Justice Gogoi, who demitted office as the CJI on November 17, said that at all stages, commencing from the investigation up to the stage of trial, "the time lines stipulated under the (POCSO) Act have not been complied with". Concurring with the report of Registrar Rathi, the court said, "it appears that one major reason for the inability of the stakeholders to meet the deadline stipulated under the Act is lack of awareness and lack of dedication in completing investigation, etc. within the time frame stipulated and also inadequacy of the number of courts which has resulted in cases remaining pending beyond the period mandated for completion of trial under the Act." It said the Central Government will "play a much more proactive role to ensure that trials of cases arising out of the POCSO Act are completed in the time frame laid down in the Act".

The bench directed all state governments and the Centre "to do what is required to be done to ensure" that the probe and the trial in POCSO cases are completed within the time frame by the creation of "additional force for investigation". It further directed the Centre and the states to take steps for sensitization of their officials associated with the probe and create dedicated courts to try POCSO cases on "top priority" so that the charge-sheets are filed and the trials are completed within the time frame contemplated under the law.

The law provides that the probe agencies are supposed to file charge sheets within 60 days in lesser offences and within 90 days in offences which prescribe jail term above 10 years. The apex court has also sought the Centre's response on the "draft scheme" for compensation prepared by Rathi, the apex court's registrar, who took note of the fact that in 99 per cent POCSO cases the child victims are not paid any interim compensation by the government authorities. It has now fixed the matter for further hearing on December 12 and the Centre and the states have been directed to file the action taken report in the meantime. The apex court, on July 12, had taken note of the "alarming rise" in the number of rape incidents against children and had said it will pass directions to ensure a "concerted" and "clear" national response against such acts.

Later, it directed setting up of a designated court in every district that has more than 100 FIRs under the POCSO Act to deal exclusively with cases of sexual offences against children. In a slew of directions, the apex court had also said that a short clip, intended to spread awareness about prevention of child abuse and prosecution of crimes against children, be screened in every movie hall and transmitted by various television channels at regular intervals. The top court had directed that the special courts be funded by the Centre that will also take care of appointments of presiding officers, support persons, special public prosecutors, court staff and infrastructure, including creation of child-friendly environment and vulnerable-witness court rooms.

The case was registered as a writ petition in July, titled: "In-re Alarming Rise in The Number of Reported Child Rape Incidents". The bench had asked the Registry to file a report on aspects such as the total number of rape cases involving children registered across India since January 1, the stage of investigations and the time taken to file a charge sheet as also the status of trials. It had asked the Registry to collect details from all the states and high courts. Referring to the data on sexual crimes against children, it said that from January 1 to June 30 this year, 24,212 FIRs have been filed across India. Out of over 24,000 cases, 11,981 are still being probed by the police and in 12,231 cases police have filed the charge sheet, it said. Trials have commenced in 6,449 cases only, it said, adding that they are yet to commence in 4,871 cases.

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