Request for more POCSO special courts in TN to clear the wait

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Almost a year after the government announced special courts in four districts, they have yet to be established

Almost a year after the government announced special courts in four districts, they have yet to be established

As the wait for cases to be brought under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act (POCSO) continues to bother campaigners, nearly a year after the government announced special courts would be set up in four districts to deal with these cases exclusively, they have not come so far. In Theni, sources said, construction of the court is underway.

Pursuant to a Supreme Court order, on a suo motu written petition of 2019, to constitute an exclusive/designated special court in districts where there are more than 100 cases under the law, the state government passed an ordinance in February 2021 to establish a special court in Dindigul , Dharmapuri, Theni and Tiruvallur districts to handle the high volume of cases, even sanctioning funds to establish them.

“The reason for the order to set up special courts was the high expectation in these districts. However, delays [in establishing these courts] will only increase dependency. If you don’t have the infrastructure to deal with the cases, it’s clear that the wait will continue to increase,” says Vidya Reddy of the Tulir-Centre for the Prevention and Cure of Child Sexual Abuse. A total of 14,380 cases under the POCSO Act have been filed as of February 26, 2022, and 7,193 of them have been settled, with the rest pending.

In her experience, she says, there is usually a huge difference between special courts and “designated courts” to try cases in a particular area. In Tamil Nadu, out of the 32 judicial districts, 16 have been identified as having more than 100 cases under the POCSO Act, and 8 districts having more than 200 cases. Sixteen exclusive POCSO courts have been established and are functional in Chennai, Coimbatore, Cuddalore, Kancheepuram, Nagercoil, Madurai, Nagapattinam, Salem, Sivaganga, Thanjavur, Tirunelveli, Tiruvannamalai, Thoothukudi, Vellore, Villupuram and Virudhunagar. In the other districts, the courts of Mahila have been designated as courts under the POCSO Act.

“In these exceptional jurisdictions, we have found that the quality of the prosecution is much better. There are special prosecutors also appointed, and the energy they bring to the investigation and prosecution is to be appreciated,” Ms Reddy said. It makes a lot of difference in each case, she argues. If justice is to be served, the prosecution must build a watertight case so that it does not end in an acquittal, she adds.

The Supreme Court, in its order of suo motu petition, clarified that in districts where there are more than 100 cases under the POCSO Act, at least one exclusive court must be established and in each district where there are more than 300 cases, at least two exclusive courts must be installation.

According to the latest POCSO case status data as of February 26, 2022, 26 districts have more than 100 pending cases; 17 of them have more than 200 pending cases; eight of them more than 300 cases; four of them more than 400 pending cases; and one, more than 500 pending cases (Tirunelveli). Child rights activists point out that in districts where there is a special POCSO court, the processing of cases is also more efficient and faster, although there are delays.

“Addiction is not just about numbers. It leaves a deep impact on the victim and the family,” says Girija Kumarababu, secretary of the Indian Council for Child Welfare. “There is a great social and economic pressure exerted on the family of a victim and on the child as well; it gets worse when the aggressor begins to exert his influence and power. Besides the trauma of the incident, it is highly likely that girls, especially those who drop out of school, experience significant mental stress. For the family, the repeated court visits will mean loss of wages, in addition to disharmony at home,” she says, stressing the need to ensure prompt and efficient resolution of POCSO cases.

( With contributions by L. Srikrishna)

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