Last week,an eight-year-old girl was scheduled to depose before the special Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSOA) court set up on the Sessions Court premises at Kala Ghoda. A neighbour uncle had allegedly raped her early this year.
The child,accompanied by her mother,had reached much before time to ensure they did not have to face any difficulty while in the court. However,their early arrival left the child and her mother more vulnerable and worried. They had to jostle their way through to the court which also handles cases registered under the Maharashtra Protection of Investors Deposit (MPID) Act and adoption matters,and were forced to wait among dozens of litigants and lawyers before the court was vacated for her testimony.
My child was scared to enter the court. She stood stunned before the judge and spoke with a lot of difficulty, said her teary-eyed mother. I am a single parent and have kept the incident under wraps. It was unnerving to appear before the court with so many people around me, she said.
The POCSOA,which came with a provision for avoiding further re-victimisation of the child by the judicial system,is yet to be followed in its entirety. The court still does not not have the basic screens,separating the victim or a witness from the rest of the public in the court, said lawyer Persis Sidhwa,from Majlis,an organisation that works for women and children. While many courts handling rape and sexual assault cases have a healthy practice of setting up a screen between the victims and others,this is still not practised in the POCSOA court.
Sessions court registrar S P Patange declined to comment on the court’s functioning as she did not know the arrangements made available for the court.
After a letter to the Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court,a meeting was arranged between Majlis and the principal judge of Sessions court Shalini Phansalkar Joshi,special POCSOA judge S D Tulankar,among others,seeking shifting of the court to a friendlier atmosphere and for ensuring that it handled only POCSOA cases.
In the meeting on September 26,we submitted a list of changes such as a special court,with recording of the child’s testimony inside the judges chamber,and a waiting room for the victim and her family to avoid any public contact. The principal judge accepted the suggestions but the changes are yet to be made, said Majlis’ Flavia Agnes.