The rape of a minor girl aged two and a half years shocked Mumbai Saturday. According to government figures, which show reported crimes, there has been a rise in the cases of sexual crimes involving a child in the state. The number of cases where convictions are still pending is staggering too.
The government figures say the pendency of cases registered under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offence Act (POCSOA), 2012, since December 2013 has grown six folds in Maharashtra — from 1,738 that year to a staggering 11,123 by June 30, 2016. These statistics further reveal that the rise in pendency has been consistent, which would point to the state machinery’s failure in securing timely convictions against those accused of such offences. In 2014, the pendency was 5,426, and it further rose to 9,117 the following year.
The government figures were obtained under the Right to Information Act from the office of the Assistant Registrar (High Court), Appellate Side, in the Bombay High Court. Social activist Vihar Durve, who has been fighting for speedy justice for the victims, said the shocking rise in the number of pending cases revealed the government’s failure in ensuring justice in such cases.
A district-wise record of the pendency further reveals that the City Civil Court in Mumbai, with 2,089 cases, has the highest number of pending POCSOA cases, followed by district courts in neighbouring Thane (1,443), Pune (1,036), Nagpur (757) and Amravati (624).
The Maharashtra Police said there had been an increase in the number of people coming forward to report such crimes. “There has been a rise in the number of non-recent child sexual offences reported to us,” said an official. In Mumbai alone, according to crime statistics available on the Mumbai Police’s official website, cases of sexual crimes reported against children rose from 146 in 2012 to 447 in 2015, which is an over three-fold jump. The POSCOA came into being in 2012.
Durve, however, blamed infrastructural gaps for the high number of pending cases. “In 2014, the state issued a notification conferring powers to all sessions and additional sessions judges in the state for dealing with cases related to crime against children under POSCOA, which provides for setting up of special courts for such matters. But the implementation has lacked with no separate staff being provided,” he said, adding the judiciary, too, was to be blamed. Incidentally, the Maharashtra State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, a statutory commission for protection and promotion of child rights, has been running without a full-time chairman and board since December 2011.
Minister of State for Women and Child Development (WCD) Vidya Thakur said she would urgently review the situation. Despite repeated attempts, Maharashtra WCD Minister Pankaja Munde could not be contacted.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, when contacted, said, “The registration of sexual crimes against children has been increasing ever since we changed laws and adopted a free-flow complaint policy in 2012. While the high number of cases registered is a matter of concern, we should be satisfied that instead of hiding such crimes under the carpet, victim families are coming forward to register these. The government is trying to deal with such crimes with utmost care and efficiency. We will do more.” He added, “The worst part is that often the accused in such cases turn out to be relatives or people known to the child.”
Meanwhile, Prabhat Kumar, Special IG (Law and Order), said, “POSCOA cases go designated courts where the matter is brought to justice. In some districts there are less number of such special courts which results in piling up of cases. There is a need for this to be analysed and administered.”