India has 2,43,237 POCSO ( Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) cases pending in its Fast Track Special Courts (FTSCs) till January 31, 2023, despite Central Government’s robust policy and financial commitment. Moreover, even if no new case is added to this long list, the country will need at least nine years to clear this backlog. In some states such as Arunachal Pradesh and Bihar, it could take more than 25 years to bring the pending cases to closure. In 2022, the number of cases that resulted in conviction remained a mere 3 percent nationally. This, along with a lot of other startling numbers and pertinent questions, were released in ‘Justice Awaits: An Analysis of the Efficacy of Justice Delivery Mechanisms in Cases of Child Sexual Abuse in India’, a research paper released by India Child Protection Fund (ICPF). The findings of the paper cast a huge question mark on the efficacy of the country’s judicial system, despite the Central Government’s 2019 landmark decision to set up Fast Track Special Courts to provide justice to child sexual abuse victims and despite the government pumping in crores every year to ensure justice for every child.
The paper further states that given the present scenario, while Arunachal Pradesh would take 30 years to complete the trials of cases pending under POCSO as of January 2023, Delhi will take 27 years, West Bengal 25, Meghalaya 21, Bihar 26, and Uttar Pradesh 22 years to clear the backlog.
Fast Track Special Courts (FTSCs) are specialized courts with the primary aim of expediting the trial process of cases related to sexual offences, particularly those under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses (POCSO) Act. Set up in 2019, the Central Government recently approved the continuation of FTSCs as, a Centrally Sponsored Scheme (CSS) 2026 with a budgetary allocation of over Rs 1900 crore. The scheme was supposed to deliver the legal mandate for the completion of trial of such cases within one year and yet out of the total 2,68,038 cases that were under trial, only 8,909 cases resulted in conviction.
The study highlights that each FTSC in the country on average dispose of just 28 cases per year, which means the expenditure in one conviction is around Rs 9 lakh. “Each FTSC was expected to dispose of 41-42 cases in a quarter and at least 165 in a year. The data suggests that FTSCs are unable to achieve the set targets even after three years of the launch of the scheme,” the paper said.
Citing Supreme Court’s judgement, the report further said that child marriage is child rape and as per Census 2011, a staggering 4,442 minor girls were married every day, which means every minute, three children were pushed into child marriage. However, only three child marriages are reported every day, as per the latest National Crime Records Bureau data.
Emphasizing that despite having a robust policy, strict laws and ample financial commitment, the minuscule rate of conviction is a matter of grave concern, Bhuwan Ribhu, Founder, ICPF, said, “The spirit of law needs to be translated into justice for every child. There can be no legal deterrence when mere 3 percent of the people accused of sexual offences against children are convicted. To protect all the children, it is imperative to ensure the protection of children and their families, access to rehabilitation and compensation, and time-bound legal process including trial in the lower courts and subsequent appeals in the High Courts and the Supreme Court.”
To clear the piling backlog as well as ensure victims of child sexual abuse get justice in a timely and child-friendly manner, the India Child Protection Fund has put forth a few pertinent recommendations.
Firstly, all FTSCs should be operational and there should be a robust framework for output-based monitoring of their functioning. Besides, the entire FTSC staff, from police personnel to the judges, should be exclusively attached to these courts so that they can take up these cases on a priority basis. The research paper further recommends setting up more FTSCs to clear the backlog of the cases. Moreover, the FTSCs’ dashboard should be in public domain for transparency.
The report is based on data from Ministry of Law and Justice, Ministry of Women and Child Development and National Crime Records Bureau.