When the horrific tale of an 11-year-old’s sexual abuse by 17 men came to light, it shook the collective conscience of the society. However, a year later, the culprits are yet to be convicted.
The case is like the thousands reported in the state, awaiting disposal, in clear violation of the Protection of Children From Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, which requires a case has to be disposed off within a year.
Data submitted before the Supreme Court has revealed that as many as 24,212 child rape cases have been registered across the country till June 30 this year, but only 911 have been disposed.
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The national disposal rate is just 4 per cent and Tamil Nadu’s is 2 per cent. Of the 1,043 cases registered, the state saw only 22 disposed. States like Maharashtra, Odisha at 1 per cent and Gujarat, Kerala and Telangana have 0 per cent recorded even lower rates while those like Chandigarh (41 per cent), Chhattisgarh (10 per cent) and Madhya Pradesh (10 per cent) registered better rates.
Time frame not followed
The high pendency of cases has been a worry for activists and observers. K Shanmugavelayutham, convener of TN-FORCES, which has been monitoring POCSO cases closely, says that the poor disposal rates speak of poor implementation of the Act.
“The evidence has to be gathered within three months and the cases have to be disposed of within a year. But that has never been the case. The data speaks of the lack of knowledge among various stakeholders and the lack of convergence among child welfare committees and the police department,” he said.
The perpetrator in most of the cases is a family member and in the course of the proceedings, the families do not want to pursue it, he noted.
“That is why enhancing the punishment to death penalty does not help in combating the crime. Our focus should be on better implementation and bringing together departments that look into juvenile justice, in social defence, police and the state commissions,” he said.
While coordination and implementation remain a worry, Natharsha Malim, state coordinator, Tamil Nadu, at Bachpan Bachao Andolan, says that compensation to victims too have been delayed or denied, leaving the victims in a lurch.
“Only 3-5 per cent of them get interim or final compensation. The final compensation is elusive, as it is given only after conviction. We are able to follow up only a few cases for compensation with the District Legal Services Authority,” he said.
Malim also highlighted that acquittals are high in POCSO cases.
The lack of awareness among various stakeholders has also impacted cases in ways one cannot imagine, believe experts, who call for establishment of special courts for speedy disposal.
Says advocate T Jayanthi Rani, former member of the Tamil Nadu Commission for Protection of Child Rights, “There are child marriages booked under POCSO, despite the law clearly stating the ambit. That explains the high rates of acquittal. This is largely due to the fact that the lower rung of police force doesn’t know the provisions and applications of the Act. So, one also has to see the cases individually to understand if the framework has been followed. The court for these cases should be outside in a different setting — either in a collector’s office or in the GH (general hospital) — to make it approachable for the victims,” she says.
The State Commission for Protection Of Child Rights’ focus is on the rehabilitation of the victims, says M P Nirmala, chairperson of the SCPCR.
“Even last week, we visited Ramanathapuram to help a 12-week pregnant rape victim to undergo medical termination of pregnancy,” she said.
“We are constantly monitoring cases and trying our best to safeguard the victim. We are also in touch with the special child who was raped last year by several men to help her integrate and resume schooling. We are sure she will get justice at the earliest as a chargesheet has been filed,” he said.