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17,500 Children Were Raped in a Year. The Law to Ensure Justice for Them Wasn't Used in 10,000 Cases

By Fazil Khan

Nov. 5, 2019

Representative Image. Source: (Mir Suhail/ News18 Creatives)

New Delhi: Out of the total 17,557 cases of child rape recorded in the country in 2017, Prevention of Children from Sexual Offenses Act (POCSO), a special act meant to deal with sexual offenses against minors, was not invoked in more than 10,000 or 57 per cent of the cases, latest data released last month under the ‘Crime in India’ report revealed.

According to the report, which is published by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) under the Ministry of Home Affairs, of the total cases of child rape registered across the country, relevant sections of the POCSO Act — section 4 and 6 — were invoked in just 7,498 cases, whereas only Section 376 (rape) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) was invoked in the remaining ones.

On the dismal state of recording of child rape cases under relevant POCSO provisions, the Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation (KSCF), an organization working for child rights, said in a statement that it is indicative of either lack of knowledge about the POCSO Act among police officers or a reluctance on their part.

“This is a serious lacuna in our system, which needs to be taken cognizance of by district police heads and state police chiefs so that immediate corrective action is taken. Invoking POCSO Act in FIRs of all cases of child rape is a legal requirement and any deviation from that must not be allowed,” KSCF said.

Child rights activist and lawyer Anant Kumar Asthana echoed the same concern. Asthana said it’s mostly a problem related to non-awareness of police on application of POCSO offenses, and a lot of training and effort has been made on this. He added that all relevant provisions of POCSO as well as IPC 376 must be invoked in cases of child rape.

"In the past 3-4 years, there has been an incremental performance. You will see that the number of cases where only IPC offenses have been invoked has reduced. Earlier, this figure was higher,” Asthana said. While data from NCRB verified Asthana’s claim as far as overall decline in such incidences is concerned, the trend, however, has not been that of a constant decline.

For instance, in the 2014 report, when NCRB first came out with separate numbers for cases registered under section 376 IPC and POCSO section 4 & 6, in nearly 74 per cent of the child rape cases, POCSO was not invoked, which came down to 55 per cent in the 2015 report. It climbed again to 57 per cent in the latest one. Separate data on child rapes for section 376 and POCSO was not published in the 2016 report due to a change in format.

POCSO, which was first enacted in 2012, is a more stringent act against child rape and is aimed at providing speedier justice to victims. It requires special treatment of cases relating to child sexual abuse such as setting-up of special courts, special prosecutors, and support persons for child victims.

In cases of child rape, where an accused is exonerated possibly because POCSO provisions were not invoked by the investigating officer (IO), Asthana said that it could lead to departmental action against the IO concerned.

"There has always been a mechanism wherein the judgment is analyzed by the prosecution branch whenever there is a disposal of a criminal case. If the acquittal has happened because of a lapse on the part of the IO, then action is taken against them. The only thing is that this mechanism is not functioning very efficiently," Asthana explained.

Uttar Pradesh recorded the highest — 1,609 — cases of child rape (both POCSO and IPC included) among all states during 2017, accounting for over 9 per cent of the total child rape cases. However, Mizoram with 129 cases had the highest rate of child rapes (incidents per lakh of population), mainly due to its small population size.

Moreover, trial was pending in 51,499 or 90 per cent of child rape cases (both POCSO and IPC included) as of 2017, according to the NCRB report.