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

Shocked by the high rate of the 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.

Guidelines:

All high courts must ensure that the cases of sexual assault of children are fast-tracked and decided by special courts.

High courts should instruct the trial courts not to grant unnecessary adjournments during a trial of cases under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.

High courts may constitute a committee of three judges to regulate and monitor the trials of sexual assault cases of children.

The State police chiefs should constitute special task forces to investigate cases.

Nearly 32% of cases filed under the POCSO Act, which deals with sexual abuse of minors, were pending police investigation at the end of 2016 while 89% were pending trials.

POCSO Act:

The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO Act) 2012 was formulated in order to effectively address sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children.

The Act casts the police in the role of child protectors during the investigative process. Thus, the police personnel receiving a report of sexual abuse of a child are given the responsibility of making urgent arrangements for the care and protection of the child, such as obtaining emergency medical treatment for the child and placing the child in a shelter home, and bringing the matter in front of the CWC, should the need arise.

The Act further makes provisions for avoiding the re-victimization of the child at the hands of the judicial system. It provides for special courts that conduct the trial in-camera and without revealing the identity of the child, in a manner that is as child-friendly as possible. Hence, the child may have a parent or other trusted person present at the time of testifying and can call for assistance from an interpreter, special educator, or other professional while giving evidence. Above all, the Act stipulates that a case of child sexual abuse must be disposed of within one year from the date the offense is reported.

The Act also provides for mandatory reporting of sexual offenses. This casts a legal duty upon a person who has knowledge that a child has been sexually abused to report the offense; if he fails to do so, he may be punished with six months’ imprisonment and/ or a fine.

The Act defines a child as any person below eighteen years of age. It defines different forms of sexual abuse, including penetrative and non-penetrative assault, as well as sexual harassment and pornography. It deems a sexual assault to be “aggravated” under certain circumstances, such as when the abused child is mentally ill or when the abuse is committed by a person in a position of trust or authority like a family member, police officer, teacher, or doctor.

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