New Delhi: More than 2.43 lakh cases under the POCSO Act were pending in fast-track special courts (FTSCs) as of January 31 this year despite the central government’s robust policy and financial commitment, according to a research paper published by an NGO.
In 2022, the number of such cases that resulted in conviction remained a mere three per cent nationally, it said.
The research paper — ‘Justice Awaits: An Analysis of the Efficacy of Justice Delivery Mechanisms in Cases of Child Sexual Abuse in India’ – released by India Child Protection Fund (ICPF) said that even if no new cases are added to the list, the country will need at least nine years to clear this backlog.
In some states such as Arunachal Pradesh and Bihar, it could take more than 25 years to bring the pending cases to closure.
The findings of the paper cast a huge question mark on the efficacy of the country’s judicial system, despite the central government’s 2019 landmark decision to set up fast-track special courts to provide justice to child sexual abuse victims and despite the government pumping in crores of rupees every year to ensure justice for every child.
The paper further states that given the present scenario, while Arunachal Pradesh would take 30 years to complete the trials of cases pending under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act as of January 2023, Delhi will take 27 years, West Bengal 25, Meghalaya 21, Bihar 26, and Uttar Pradesh 22 years to clear the backlog.
The fast-track courts, set up in 2019, were supposed to deliver the legal mandate for the completion of trial of such cases within one year and yet out of the total 2,68,038 cases that were under trial, only 8,909 cases resulted in conviction.
The central government recently approved the continuation of FTSCs as a centrally sponsored scheme till 2026 with a budgetary allocation of more than Rs1,900 crore.
The study highlights that each FTSC in the country on average disposes just 28 cases per year, which means the expenditure in one conviction is around Rs9 lakh.
The report is based on data from the Ministry of Law and Justice, Ministry of Women and Child Development and the National Crime Records Bureau.
“Each FTSC was expected to dispose of 41-42 cases in a quarter and at least 165 in a year. The data suggests that FTSCs are unable to achieve the set targets even after three years of the launch of the scheme,” the paper stated.
Citing the Supreme Court’s judgement, the report further said that child marriage is child rape and as per the Census of 2011, a staggering 4,442 minor girls were married every day, which means every minute, three children were pushed into child marriage. However, only three child marriages are reported every day, as per the latest National Crime Records Bureau data.
Emphasizing that despite having a robust policy, strict laws and ample financial commitment, the minuscule rate of conviction is a matter of grave concern, ICPF founder Bhuwan Ribhu said, “The spirit of law needs to be translated into justice for every child. There can be no legal deterrence when mere three per cent of the people accused of sexual offences against children are convicted.”
“To protect all the children, it is imperative to ensure the protection of children and their families, access to rehabilitation and compensation, and time-bound legal process including trial in the lower courts and subsequent appeals in the high courts and the Supreme Court,” he said.
To clear the piling backlog as well as ensure victims of child sexual abuse get justice in a timely and child-friendly manner, the India Child Protection Fund recommended that all FTSCs should be operational and there should be a robust framework for output-based monitoring of their functioning.
The paper recommended that the entire FTSC staff, from police personnel to the judges, should be exclusively attached to these courts so that they can take up these cases on a priority basis. It also recommended setting up more FTSCs to clear the backlog of the cases, and putting the FTSCs’ dashboard in the public domain for transparency.