Only 10% of POCSO cases sent for the trial are disposed of every year: KSCF study

Excerpts from the paper by the Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation, “Status of POCSO cases in India”, based on data pertaining to POCSO extracted from National Crime Records Bureau, Crime in India report 2017-2019; conviction rate of POCSO cases by states for the year 2018, taken from Lok Sabha Un-Starred Question No 2627; and documents published by the Ministry of Law and Justice for the number of pending cases:

A journey from ‘No’ law to a ‘Special law’ highlights the grave need to bring a special system in place especially to address the increasing rise in the number of sexual crimes against children. Almost a decade has passed since the Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO) was introduced. However, we are still struggling to ensure its proper and effective implementation to impart justice to victims of child sexual abuse. This paper is an attempt to highlight the status of disposal of cases registered under POCSO.

The overall crime against children increased from 1,29,032 cases in 2017 to 1,41,764 in 2018 (10%) which further increased to 1,48,185 in 2019 (increased by 5% over 2018). While the cases registered under the Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) increased from 32,608 cases in 2017 to 39,827 in 2018 (22%). This number further increased to 47,335 cases in 2019 (increased by 19% over 2018). 2 Cases registered under POCSO constituted 32% of the total crimes committed against children in 2019. Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra registered the highest number of cases under POCSO with 7,594 and 6,558 cases, respectively.

Victims of POCSO

The number of victims of POCSO in 2019 increased by 18% over 2018. i.e. from 40,810 victims in 2018 to 48,043 in 2019. The higher number of victims than the total cases registered shows that in some cases an FIR entails more than one victim. Out of the total cases registered under POCSO, 55% of cases were registered under Child Rape (Sec 4 & 6 of POCSO Act/ Section 376 of IPC) in 2019, among these cases 99% of the victims were girls.

These percentages have remained constant since 2017. The number of male child victims of penetrative sexual assault in 2018 was increased from 183 over 2017 to 229 in 2018. This further increased by 17% in 2019. i.e. (from 229 male child victims in 2018 to 268 in 2019). The study carried out by KSCF on “Awareness and Perceptions about Child Sexual Abuse among Young Adults in India” shows that 25% of male children are sexually abused. Accordingly, approximately 5.8 Cr male children every year are sexually abused. Whereas the number of cases registered is negligible.

Disposal of Cases

Timely investigation and filing of chargesheet in the court within the stipulated time by the police play an important role in delivering justice. However, the last three years’ data shows that in a given year the number of cases where the investigation was completed by the police is less than the number of cases registered during the year. This will lead to the mounting of pending cases year on year. In 2019, the total number of cases registered was 47,335 and 17,764 cases were carried forward for investigation from the previous year, 85 cases were also reopened for investigation.

Thus the total number of cases of which the investigation was to be carried out in 2019 was 65,184. In 2018 the total cases to be investigated were 54,924 which was a 22% increase over 2017 (from 44,924 cases for investigation in 2017 to 54,924 in 2018). Whereas in 2019 this number increased further by 19% (from 54,924 cases for investigation in 2018 to 65,184 in 2019). This rise in the number of cases to be investigated in a year is primarily due to the rise in the number of cases carried forward from the previous year. In 2017, the number of cases carried forward for investigation from the previous year was 12,312 which increased to 15,074 in 2018 and further to 17,764 in 2019.

Thus, since 2017 the pending cases for investigation have increased by 44% in 2019 with an average annual increase of 15%. At this rate instead of reducing the number of pending cases will be doubled in seven years. However, cases disposed off by the police constitute 70% of the total cases listed for investigation in 2019, highlighting the fact that 30% of cases were still pending for investigation. This backlog of cases every year is increasing the number of cases for investigation in the following year. If this continues the pendency will continue to mount leading to a denial of justice to children.

In 2019, the crime against women increased by 7% over 2018. However, POCSO cases (Girl child victims only) in 2019 increased by 19% in 2019 over 2018 and constituted 11% of the total crime against women in 2019.

Filling of charge sheet plays an important role as it paves the way for a fair trial and justice for victims. In 2019, chargesheet for 93% of the cases out of the cases that were disposed off by the police wasfiled. The rate of chargesheeting has remained constant at between 93% – 94% since 2017. The pendency of cases will not reduce until the rate of chargesheeting exceeds the total number of cases registered in a given year. Faster completion of the investigation will lead to faster filling of chargesheets.

Court Disposal

In 2018, amendments were made to “the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act,” with the motive to prevent sexual offenses against children and women. The idea behind introducing harsh punishment was to create deterrence against such heinous crimes. However, it is only possible if the trial in the court is completed within the time frame and justice is delivered expeditiously to the victims. The cases for trial increased from 93,423 cases in 2017 to 1,19,710 cases in 2018, (increased by 28%). The same was increased further to 1,49,872 in 2019 (an increase by 25% over 2018).

It should be noted that as per the Act, trials in POCSO cases should be completed within a year but there are over 1.60 lakh cases of sexual abuse of children still pending trial in the courts. However, since the source is changed there is a discrepancy in the reported pending cases.

Data presented by the NCRB in its Crime in India report 2017-2019 shows that even though in terms of absolute numbers, the cases in which trial has been completed is increasing, yet the percentage of trials completed to the total cases for trials remains constant at 10%. By the end of 2019, the cases pending trial stand at 89% of the total cases for trial. Thus to complete trials within the stipulated time, there is a dire need for the establishment of more fast-track courts in the country.

However, in 2019 the trial was completed in 38% of the 42,681 cases that were sent for trial during the year. Whereas, in 2018 and 2017 this percentage was slightly lower at 32%. The lower number of cases having completed trials is indicative of the slow process of disposal of cases by the courts.

3. Quality of Disposal of Cases The POCSO amendment act was notified on 6th August 2019. The amendment addresses penetrative sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, aggravated penetrative sexual assault, and the use of children for pornographic purposes. Key to note among these is the increase in minimum punishment for an aggravated penetrative assault from 10 years to 20 years with the death penalty as maximum punishment. However, sentencing an accused to the death penalty would require judges to be very sure of executing it which would further delay the trial making the child wait longer for justice.

Completion of trials leading to convictions

Data shows that the conviction rate over the years has remained almost constant around 34%. However, the rate of conviction for sections 8 &10 decreased by 4% in 2019 over 2018. Whereas, the conviction rate for child rape which remained constant at 32% in 2017 and 2018, increased marginally by 3% in 2019 over 2018.

The data relating to State wise rate of conviction under POCSO cases for 2018 have been sourced from Lok Sabha Un-Starred Question No.2627. Figure 3 shows that states such as Bihar, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Nagaland, and Manipur have a very high conviction rate (70%-100%). Whereas, states and UT such as Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Maharashtra, and Madhya Pradesh that report a high number of cases have a conviction rate between 30% to 64%.

Conclusion

Child sexual abuse is one of the most pressing concerns of the day. The rising number of cases of children who are reported to have suffered some form of sexual abuse is indicative of the failure of the state and society to provide children with an environment conducive to growth, in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. However, it is also an opportunity to take cognizance of the problem and strive towards getting justice for victims, and aim to prevent future instances of child sexual abuse. The rising public consciousness and media attention, along with the pro-active measures taken by the judiciary in the last few years is proof that the right of children to live with dignity is finally getting the attention it requires.

States such Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Delhi constitute 51% of the POCSO cases in the country. Yet we see that the rate of conviction in these states is between 30%-64%. According to an RTI response dated 19/2/21 shows that out of the 1023 Fast track courts to be set up, 612 FTC’s are already functional. Thus, there is an urgent need for these courts to speed up their justice delivery mechanism in order to ensure timely justice to the victims of child sexual abuse as 89% of the cases still await trial.

Recommendations:

1. Since women and children constitute one of the most vulnerable sections of society they deserve special attention and the crime against them needs to be treated on priority and with the utmost sensitivity. Thus, instead of ‘coercive policing’ ‘compassionate policing’ is needed to deal with such cases. Therefore, there is a need for a dedicated unit headed by the Additional Superintendent of Police and/or Deputy Commissioner of Police including experts from forensics for investigating sexual offences against women and children. The unit must have adequate manpower, infrastructure, and equipment so that these cases are 11 investigated thoroughly and on priority. Most of the Districts do not have dedicated special units to investigate the sexual offence committed against women and children. Hence, there is a need for a special unit for dealing with victims compassionately. Trained manpower with the psychological bend of mind is needed to deal with the trauma that women and child victims face.

2. As discussed above the total number of cases sent to court for trial in 2019 was 42,682 and the disposal was 16,238 which is only 38% of the total cases. In order to reduce the pendency at least 42,682 cases would have disposed off in 2019 instead of 16,238. As only 10% of the cases sent for the trial are disposed of every year, the need for more special courts for POCSO is essential. More courts need to be established and made functional to complete trials within the given time without further delaying the justice delivery mechanism.

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