On January 29, 2016, a report on the working of POCSO courts in Delhi was released by the Centre for Child and the Law, National Law School of India University, Bangalore (NLSIU). A research team from NLSIU studied 667 judgments passed by 20 judges in Delhi’s district courts from January 1, 2013 till September 30, 2015 under the POCSO Act. The team also interviewed officers from the police, legal aid services and judicial services as well as child welfare committee members, lawyers, public prosecutors, court staff, and vulnerable witnesses and their families.
Only courtrooms in Saket and Karkardooma have a separate entrance for children, a waiting room, audio-visual facilities, a separate room to record evidence, and toilets within the vicinity of the courtrooms. These facilities are not yet available in Tis Hazari, Patiala House, Dwarka and Rohini.
Section 33(2) of the POCSO Act prohibits the Special Public Prosecutor and the defence lawyer from putting questions to the child directly. All questions… must be routed through the Special Court. Except Saket and Karkardooma, as a rule, additional public prosecutors and defence lawyers in most other Special Courts pose questions to the child directly. Routing of questions through the judge is, therefore, an exception…
Questions put to the child are not always age and developmentally appropriate.
Matters are routinely adjourned if the defence lawyer/APP is not available or the judge is on leave. No prior intimation is given to the child and the family… they end up making multiple visits to the courtroom.
Section 33(7), POCSO Act, requires the Special Court to protect the identity of the child during the investigation and trial… The Special Court can permit disclosure if it is in the interest of the child. According to several respondents, the identity of the child victim is poorly protected. The POCSO court hall is known to all, and names are called out loudly by the court staff while calling for cases. Besides, all details of victim are in the FIR and not hard to secure.
According to Section 35(2), POCSO Act, as far as possible, the trial should be completed within one year of the court taking cognizance of the offence. In 461 cases (69 per cent of the cases), the trial was completed within a year. In 187 cases (28 per cent), it took over a year; in 19 cases (3 per cent), the time taken to complete the trial was over two years. All trials were completed in less than three years. Of the 461 cases that were completed within one year, convictions resulted in 55 cases (11.93 per cent). Of the 187 cases disposed of between one and two years, convictions were recorded in 50 cases (26.73 per cent). Of the 19 cases, in which disposal took more than two years, conviction took place in seven cases (36.84 per cent).
Section 38, POCSO Act, requires the Special Court to take the assistance of a qualified translator, interpreter, special educator, or a person familiar with the manner of communication of a child, if necessary. Interviews with stakeholders revealed a list of qualified experts is not available with most courts.
Among the total number of victims, the 12 to 15 age group formed the largest group, consisting of 30 per cent of the cases (197 cases), while the 16 to 18 age group formed the second largest group, consisting 28 per cent of the cases (186). Children below 5 years constituted 7 per cent of the victims.
Conviction was awarded in 112 cases under the POCSO Act and the large majority (555 cases) ended in acquittal. This pegs the rate of conviction at a measly 16.8 per cent.
The prosecutrix/victim turned hostile in a staggering 67.5 per cent of the cases (450 cases) and testified against the accused in only 178 cases (26.7 per cent).
The accused was known to the victim in 80 per cent cases, was a stranger in 17 per cent cases, and profile was not specified in 3 per cent of the cases.
There is a huge support gap in the services rendered to child victims and their families, as it was found to be sporadic and intermittent… NGOs in Delhi providing support services shared the positive impact of support on the child and the family. However, there is little clarity on the role of the ‘Support Person’ and the nature/extent of the support they are required to provide. This emerged as a major area of concern, given the significant proportion of cases in which victims turned hostile.