High acquittal rates, high drop-out rates due to delayed court procedures, and an absurdly lenient sentence in child rape cases is a travesty of justice.
I welcome the Amended POCSO ordinance that ensures the death penalty for those who commit crimes against children
Four years ago, in 2014, in trying to help a young couple, I was exposed to the tragic issue of crimes against children. The young couple was devastated and shattered because their young child aged around two to three years was raped in a very up-market, expensive pre-school.
Soon, I was struggling along with the parents — first to register the case, then to get the investigation to progress, and finally for a chargesheet and prosecution. The system of police, prosecutors and courts was slow and sluggish — driven by lack of empathy and, more than that, ill-equipped with the requisite knowledge, training and tools.
That first case drags on even today, despite entering our criminal justice system as a POCSO case over three years ago — testing the patience of the parents and the child, who are forced into a hostile court environment regularly as part of this process.
No wonder then that parents drop out and few cases complete the prosecution process; thus the very low conviction rates. And amid all this, the government of Karnataka has done nothing and, tragically, more children have become victims. High acquittal rates, high drop-out rates due to delayed court procedures, and an absurdly lenient sentence is a travesty of justice. It shows how difficult it gets for any family to deal with the problem. Every data and statistic that I analyse today points to this being a huge problem.
Through these four years, I have realised what a horror it is to have a child go through the trauma of such an assault, and the pain that scars not just the child but their entire family.
These crimes are a violation of the child’s right to a safe childhood and the worst forms of cruelty. They need to be treated as a criminal act that meets the test of ‘rarest of rare’. If we are to make India a country safe for children, we need to agree to a zero-tolerance mindset to criminals that harm them.
Given the clear and present danger that child sexual offenders represent to children, and that our system is slow and sluggish due to years of apathy, the only solution here and now is severe deterrence. Creating a new normal with the death penalty as punishment for sexual crimes against children aged under 12 is precisely that deterrent.
In February 2017, I had organised a national-level consultation on the POCSO Act, with representatives from the government, judiciary, executive, child-support groups, doctors, lawyers, NGOs involved in child safety. In August, I came up with a summary of the outcome of the consultation, and handed over a detailed report titled ‘Recommendations to Combat Child Sexual Abuse’ to women and child development (WCD) minister Maneka Gandhi.
In that report, I had urged the minister and the WCD ministry to amend the POCSO Act to:
• Bring in the harshest of punishments for child molesters.
• Make speedy investigation and trial mandatory.
• Deny bail, exclude provisions for anticipatory bail.
• Strengthen the courts, prosecution, and forensic labs.
• Introduce one-stop centres.
• Provide victim assistance.
• Compile a national database (a child sex offender registry).
Many of these recommendations have been covered in the ordinance that has been approved by the Cabinet. I’m pleased that the effort has made some difference in the fight to protect India’s children.
Children look to adults with trust and we must do whatever it takes to #ProtectOurChildren. Justice for the victims of child sexual abuse is must and non-negotiable. No punishment would be too severe for those who perpetrate such cruelty on an innocent child. The purpose of punishment under legal jurisprudence includes retribution, deterrence and incapacitation, which is why I welcome the ordinance passed by the Narendra Modi government.
I have no doubt that this deterrent will help us protect our children while simultaneously improving the capacity and responsiveness of police, prosecutors and courts.
The ordinance is a first step alright, but a giant one in the fight to protect our children.
Rajeev Chandrasekhar is Rajya Sabha MP from the BJP.