Over 112,000 cases under the POCSO (Protection Of Children from Sexual Offences) Act—112,628 to be precise—are pending final conclusion before various High Courts, even as the Supreme Court has directed the courts to ensure a speedy trial in all such cases.
According to data available from various High Courts, Uttar Pradesh has the highest number of pendency of cases under the POCSO Act, followed by Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal. Government of India presented this document to the Supreme Court this week.
In Uttar Pradesh alone, over 30,000 cases of child sexual abuse are pending, while over 16,000 such cases are pending in Maharashtra.
The number of cases of sexual abuse is abysmally high in Delhi, the national capital. A total of 6,100 cases of child sexual abuse are pending before the courts in Delhi and most of such cases have been pending for years, mostly stuck at the evidence stage. Out of the 6,100 cases, 4,155 cases are pending at the evidence stage.
A close look at the data suggests that most cases are stuck at the stage of evidence or prosecution of evidence. A total of 80% of the total cases are stuck at the stage of evidence and experts and lawyers say that collecting and presenting evidence in these cases proved to be near impossible.
While states like Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana did not provide any data on the number of cases pending under the POCSO Act, states like West Bengal do not even have an exclusive POCSO court to try offenders of child sexual abuse.
Abha Singh, senior lawyer and child rights activist, told The Sunday Guardian that the lack of fast track courts, low priorities by the prosecuting agencies and the influence of the accused on minor victims, are reasons behind such delays.
“Most such cases get stuck at the evidence stage because the police fail to collect the evidence at the right time. Children often hesitate to come out in the open and give testimony because of fear. Forensics are not done in time and, therefore, crucial evidence is lost. And these cases carry on for so long that when the girl child reaches the age of marriage, they withdraw the case because of social stigma. We need to have fast track courts so that conclusions are reached at the earliest,” Singh said.
The rate of conviction in cases of child sexual abuse is also very low, and stands at just 18%-20% of the total cases registered.
Abha Singh also said that the lack of conviction or the slow rate of conviction is one of the reasons “we do not see a decline in the number of cases of sexual offence because it fails to instil the fear of law”. “We always talk about laws, but what we need to ensure is that crimes are prevented. The law should be such that it acts as a deterrent and we should focus on certain and speedy punishment—only then there would be the fear of law,” Singh said.