More than a year after Parliament passed a special law to ensure the speedy disposal of cases of child abuse, just 38 of over a thousand cases filed in Maharashtra have been disposed of with only nine convictions.
Eleven cases were filed in the Bombay high court (including benches at Nagpur and Aurangabad), but only two have been disposed of and there have been no convictions.
The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO) was passed by Parliament on May 22, 2012 and came into force on November 14, 2012. In Maharashtra, 1,161 case were filed under various provisions of the act between November 2012 and October 2013.
Until recently, various sections of the Indian Penal Code were used to deal with sexual offences against children. But POCSO, which aims to protect children from sexual assaults, harassment and pornography, also provides special children’s courts as well as special procedures to ensure protection and speed up prosecution.
Section 35(2) stipulates that the special court shall complete the trial, as far as possible, within one year from the date of taking cognizance of the offence. Similarly, it sets a 30-day deadlines for recording evidence of the child. Obviously, implementation has been slow.
“The state child rights commission, a statutory body required to ensure the effective implementation of the act, does not have a full-time chairman since December 2, 2011.
So, there is no one to monitor the implementation or question the courts about the delay,” said Suryakant Kulkarni, a former member of the Maharashtra State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (MSCPCR). Ujjwal Ukey has been the commission’s acting chairman.
AN Tripathi, secretary of MSCPCR, has a different view. “It is difficult to ascertain the number of cases that were registered before the special law came into existence, but it was certainly less as very few cases involving the sexual abuse of children would have been registered under the IPC,” he said.
Tripathi also expressed his appreciation for the police expediting the investigation in cases registered under POCSO. “Last year, the commission conducted 13 public hearings to sensitise people about the act. It plans to equip about 40 master trainers to acquaint the police, teachers and special court magistrates with the provisions of the act to improve implementation,” he said.
Explaining the probable reason for the delay, advocate Rebecca Gonsalves said, “Sometimes, the charge sheet is filed before the metropolitan magistrate and then brought before the special court. But much of the delay may be over the appointment of the judge for the special court. The session court in Mumbai got a special court for POCSO cases only recently.” The special court is presided over by judge SD Tulankar.