She was nine years old when her father allegedly forced himself on her the first time. According to the complaint, the abuse continued for the next three years. Last summer, the girl shared her story with a friend she had met at a summer arts camp, and the complaint reached police.
On Wednesday morning, the girl answered questions from a judge hearing her father’s application for bail, hours ahead of the inauguration of a new child courtroom — the second of its kind in the capital.
The courtroom, inaugurated by Supreme Court Justice Ranjana P Desai, allows children to depose from behind screens, with support from lawyers and social workers. It has dolls and puzzles to help children feel less intimidated by the process. The special courts are meant to showcase the commitment to fight sexual violence against children, and to give teeth to the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO), 2012.
But the girl who had allegedly been sexually abused by her father got none of this protection.
During Wednesday’s hearing, she was asked to answer questions about what had happened, and why she did not report it earlier, without her lawyer or a social worker present. A request that she be allowed to skip the bail hearing — to which the victim’s testimony is not germane — had been denied earlier.
Under POCSO, cases must be tried in the presence of persons “in whom the child has trust and confidence”, and the child is “entitled to the assistance of a legal counsel of their choice”.
Lawyer Mihira Sood, who represents the girl and several other child victims of sexual violence, said: “Though the law now allows child victims legal representation, we are routinely denied copies of case-related documents, and often aren’t even notified about proceedings.”
Public Prosecutor Irfan Ahmad did not respond to requests for comment.
“In the dozen cases I’ve dealt with in the last year, no public prosecutor has ever spoken to me asking to talk to the victim or their families,” Sood said.
She said many child victims don’t even get to know how their case is progressing. She gave an example from last month, in which she said lawyers for a six-year-old girl alleged to have been raped by a 13-year-old neighbour were denied a copy of the final order on the grounds that it would compromise the juvenile accused’s identity.
“To date, the victim is unaware of whether she has got justice, and whether she is entitled to compensation from the Delhi Legal Services Authority,” Sood said.
Child victims also remain unprotected from pressure. The girl in court on Wednesday morning was accosted by her mother and sisters, and told she was bringing shame to the family. Her mother had earlier accused her lawyer and social worker in public of brainwashing her.