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India's fast-track courts failing to deliver justice to child sexual abuse victims: Study

By Our Representative   
India has 2,43,237 Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) 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, says a new study.
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, have been 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 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 research paper states that sexually abused children will have to wait till the year 2027 for justice in Gujarat as the number of cases pending in POCSO courts as on January 2023 is 3,043.
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, Bihar 26, West Bengal 25, and Meghalaya 21 years to clear the backlog. Gujarat will take approximately 4 years to clear POCSO cases. 
Conviction rate under POCSO Act
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 says.
Citing Supreme Court’s judgement, the report further says 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. 
Trend in POCSO cases pending trials
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, India Child Protection Fund, says:
“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 research paper 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 study is based on data from Ministry of Law and Justice, Ministry of Women and Child Development and National Crime Records Bureau.

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