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EDITORIAL

Child rape and POCSO

Child rape
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It is really a matter of grave concern that over 1.50 lakh cases of rape committed on children have been pending in different courts of law across the country. Equally alarming is the fact that the disposal rate of such cases of child rape has been extremely poor – it is merely nine per cent as on June 30. These startling figures have come from none other than in institution like the Supreme Court of India, which, according to a news item emanating from the national capital, has expressed its dismay over the fact that the large number of victims – all innocent children – have been waiting for years for a child-friendly justice delivery system. It is also said that judges who have been assigned to conduct trial of child rape cases are also over-burdened with heaps of cases related to various other matters. The news of huge pendency of child rape cases across the country has come at a time when the Rajya Sabha has passed the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill 2019, which seeks to provide more stringent punishment, including death penalty, to the perpetrators of sexual offences against children. The Amendment Bill will next go to the Lok Sabha for its approval. The proposed changes in the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act also provide for fines and imprisonment to curb child pornography. The Bill has proposed to increase the jail terms for offenders. This include increasing the existing provision of seven-year jail terms to 10 years, the existing 10-year jail terms to 20 years, the 20-year jail terms to life imprisonment, as also death penalty. Moreover, Section 9 of the Act that deals with ‘Aggravated Sexual Assault’, has been sought to be amended to protect children from sexual offences in times of natural calamities and cataclysms; the Bill has also sought to extend the definition of ‘Sexual Assault’ to incorporate administration of hormones or other chemical substances to children to make them attain early sexual maturity for the purpose of penetrative sexual assault. The Bill also proposes to penalise the transmitting of pornographic materials to children and proposes to synchronise it with the Information Technology Act. The Rajya Sabha’s amendment of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act also comes almost simultaneously with the Supreme Court of India directing the government to sett up of special courts in each district across the country that had over a 100 cases of child abuse and sexual assault pending trial under the POCSO Act. A Bench led by Justice Ranjan Gogoi, the Chief Justice of India, last Thursday directed the government to set up the special courts within 60 days from the date of passing of the order. The special courts will be established under a Central scheme and fully funded by the Centre, which means the Centre would fund everything from the payment of the presiding officers, staff and support persons to the court’s child-friendly infrastructure. The Supreme Court’s order came while disposing a PIL that was instituted on the basis of the court’s own report; the report had showed that 24,212 First Information Reports were filed across India from January 1 to June 30 this year. Chief Justice Gogoi also expressed concern about States where there was hardly any infrastructure; where the Magistrate has hardly any room; where he or she sits in a small four-by-four enclosure. According to what the Chief Justice said in the course of delivering the order, at present the presiding officers handling POCSO cases lack basic infrastructure, yet are snowed under by cases under new laws. What is even more alarming is that as the Bill was discussed in Rajya Sabha, Union Minister of Women and Child Development Smriti Irani told the Upper House that over six lakh sexual offenders have been registered under the National Sexual Offenders Registry (NSOR) across in the country. As per records from the National Crime Record Bureau, 821 children have been sexually abused in Assam in 2016. It is pertinent to keep in mind the fact that 78% of the cases of child sexual abuse are committed by people known to the child, most of them being neighbours or school teachers. The sight of innocent children with bite marks, torn lips and bruised private parts can break the heart of any conscious citizen of this country. Unfortunately, despite several measures taken by the State, to protect children from sexual abuse, the number of cases is growing by the day. From April 2018 till now, more than 100 cases of sexual abuse of children have been reported in Assam.