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Shakti Mills gangrape victims seek amendment to Juvenile Justice Act

Move aimed at saving other victims the trauma of having to depose before different courts

Written by SUKANYA SHANTHA | Mumbai |
December 26, 2013 2:09:23 am

Anticipating another round of trauma while deposing before the Juvenile Justice Board (JJB),the victims of the two cases of gangrape inside Mahalaxmi’s Shakti Mills compound have sought an amendment to the Juvenile Justice Act. The move is aimed at saving victims from having to depose repeatedly before different courts in the same case.

The two women,who had deposed before the sessions court in October,had broken down during the hearing. One of them,a 23-year-old photojournalist,fainted when pornographic clips were shown to her as part of the evidence gathered in the case.

Both victims are aware that the change in law will not benefit them. However,in the letter,compiled and facilitated by Majlis — an NGO that is legally aiding them — they want it to benefit victims of sexual offences in the future.

The letter,marked to the Bombay High Court,state Law and Judiciary department and the Women and Child Development department,seeks an amendment to the existing law,which calls for separate trials to be conducted against adults and juveniles.

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As juvenile offenders were allegedly involved in both gangrape incidents — of July 31 and August 22 — the victims are required to depose afresh before the Juvenile Justice Board. “Although the girls would have to depose only against the juvenile offenders,they would have to narrate the entire incident to have the statements recorded. It is a horrifying experience for a victim,” said Majlis’ founder and lawyer Flavia Agnes.

“The trauma caused to women and children victims is inconsistent with the constitutional mandate,which has special provisions to safeguard women and children. In light of the above,we request you to kindly consider our suggestion,that Section 18 of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act,2000,should be suitably amended to ensure that victims in cases of sexual offences do not have to depose before both forums,” the letter reads.

Under Section 18 of the Act,no joint proceeding can be carried out in case of juvenile and adult accused involved in the same case.

Ujjwal Uke,principal secretary of Women and Child Development department said while the state is open to suggestions,it requires extensive examination and deliberation. “The Juvenile Justice Act is a central law and amendment cannot be made at the state-level. We are looking into the options to ease the trauma of the victim while testifying before the court.”

“Under the law,it is mandatory that the statement has to be recorded in the presence of the accused. So a provision should be made available in a manner that the juvenile offender is connected to the sessions court through video-conferencing or vice versa,” said Persis Sidhwa,who runs Majlis’ RAHAT programme.

The Juvenile Justice Act provides for a protective environment for juveniles in conflict with law. In addition,the trial courts should be victim friendly,where minor as well as adult victims of sexual offences are provided a secure environment and the comforts of deposing peacefully before the court. “If the minor victim can walk to the sessions court and it is the state’s duty to provide security and safety to the victim,the juveniles can also be brought to the sessions court in cases where video-conferencing cannot be arranged,” Agnes said.

Arguing that such provisions will barely solve the issue,Asha Mukundan,assistant professor,Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) and a director of a project Resource Cell for Juvenile Justice,said instead of amendment,the victim’s statement should be video-recorded when she deposes before the trial court.

“While the proceedings are termed as in-camera,it is not videographed. If,like western countries,we were to video-record the statement,the victims would be saved of such trauma,” Mukundan said. She added that the problem does not lie in the law,but in the implementing mechanism.

sukanya.shetty@expressindia.com

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