The alleged rape of a minor in Hyderabad has once again put the spotlight on the cases registered under the POCSO act. Data from the NCRB indicates that while the number of cases registered under POCSO increased by more than 30% between 2016 & 2020, the pendency of these cases in courts crossed 94% by the end of 2020.
Incidents of sexual assault & sexual crimes against children or minors are reported regularly from across the country. Being a country with over 44 crore children, child sexual abuse continues to be a serious and widespread issue in India. Studies have highlighted how the trauma of victims of child sexual abuse leads to a host of psychological and emotional disorders which they may never overcome, resulting in poor overall development. Children and parents may even refrain from reporting such incidents due to fear of indignity, social stigma, communication gap between child and parents, community denial, lengthy legal procedures, and other reasons, and suffer in silence.
In 2012, to deal with child sexual abuse cases, the Government of India passed a special gender-neutral law- the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012 which came into force with effect from 14 November 2012 along with the rules framed under the act. The Act is a comprehensive law which provides for the protection of all children aged below 18 years irrespective of gender, from the offences of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and pornography. It aims to safeguard the interests of the child at every stage of the judicial process by incorporating child-friendly mechanisms for reporting, recording of evidence, investigation, and speedy trial of offences through designated Special Courts. Stringent punishment is based on the gravity of offence with a maximum term of rigorous imprisonment for life and a fine has been prescribed in the act.
NCRB report provides data on cases reported under different sections of POCSO
The National Crime Records Bureau’s (NCRB) annual Crime in India report provides statistics pertaining to the cases booked under the different sections of the POCSO Act, 2012. These are:
The latest NCRB data available is for 2020. Since 2017, offences under Sections 17 to 22 of the POCSO Act, and the POCSO Act read with Section 377 IPC have been included under separate heads in the NCRB report. Prior to this, unnatural offences against children were reported separately as IPC crimes and not included under POCSO Act. The report also presented data based on the child victim’s sex since 2017.
In 2019 and 2020, an average of 129 cases were reported under POCSO daily
NCRB started recording the cases under POCSO Act, 2012 only since 2014. According to the NCRB data, the number of POCSO cases increased by more than 30% between 2016 & 2020. In 2019 and 2020, more than 47,000 cases each were reported under this act. This translates to a daily average of 129 cases reported under POCSO. Between 2017 and 2020 for which data is available, girls constituted 97.1% to 97.6% of the victims each year while boys constituted the remaining 2.3% to 2.8%.
As is the case with other crimes, since the NCRB reports only those cases for which FIRs have been filed, the official numbers represent only a portion of the real figures.
90% of cases under POCSO are that of ‘rape’ and ‘sexual assault’
Among the different offences reported under POCSO Act, cases reported under Sections 4 & 6 (rape) constituted around 54% each year between 2016 and 2019. The share of cases of rape increased to 59.4% in 2020. 99% of the victims of rape in each of these years were girls.
The number of cases reported under Sections 4 & 6 was more than 28,000 in 2020, the highest reported under POCSO to date. The number has increased by nearly 60% since 2017.
Unlike in the cases of rape, the number of cases registered under Sections 8 & 10 (sexual assault), Section 12 (sexual harassment), and Sections 14 & 15 (use of a child for pornographic content) increased gradually increased until 2019 and fell in 2020. Cases of sexual assault constituted around one-third of the total cases under the POCSO Act and together with cases of rape, constitute around 90% of the cases in each of the years.
Between 2017 and 2020 for which data is available, over 2,592 cases were reported under the POCSO Act to read with Section 377 IPC (unnatural offences), of which 90% of victims (2,341) cases were boys.
More than 94% of the cases under POCSO are pending with the Courts
A Chargesheet is prepared by police as a final report naming the accused persons against whom charges can be framed. In other terms, it is an indicator of the disposal of crimes by the police. The charge sheeting rate of cases under POCSO by police was 94.2% in 2016, which increased to 94.7% by 2020. The pendency rate of POCSO cases with the police has decreased from 31.8% in 2016 to 28.8% in 2020.
On the other hand, the conviction rate is an indicator of the disposal of cases by courts and is defined as the share of convicted cases out of the total cases in which the trial was complete. Over the years, there has been a significant increase in the conviction rate, from 29.6% in 2016 to 39.6% in 2020. But the pendency of cases in the courts was 94.7% by the end of 2020, up from 88.8% by the end of 2019.
Such high pendency continues to exist despite setting up fast-track courts exclusively for expeditious trials relating to POCSO. According to a response in the Lok Sabha in March 2022, over 2.26 lakh cases registered under POCSO Act were pending in POCSO Courts as of 31 January 2022. In the same response, the Ministry of Law and Justice added that the government had rolled out a scheme to set up 1,023 Fast Track Special Courts, including 389 exclusive POCSO (ePOCSO) Courts in 31 states and UTs to accelerate the trial and disposal of cases concerning rape and those registered under POCSO.
Police disposal of cases of rape and assault under POCSO is faster than IPC crimes against women
According to the 2020 NCRB report, the charge sheeting rate in cases of rape against women, and that under POCSO was 82.2% and 96.3% respectively. The pendency of such cases with the police was 33.2% for cases of rape against women and 27.6% for rapes reported under the POCSO Act. Similarly, in cases of sexual assault, the charge sheeting under IPC for women and that under POCSO was 85.5% and 93.1%, respectively while the pendency was 28.7% for IPC cases of assault against women and 28.1% for that under POCSO. This indicates that the police disposal of cases under POCSO is slightly faster compared to the crimes against women.
At the same time, the court disposal of cases of rape shows that the conviction rate was 39.3% for crimes against women and 37.9% for cases under POCSO. The pendency for rape cases under IPC crimes against women and POCSO was 94.2% and 94.4% respectively indicating that there was not much difference in the pendency of cases.
Speedy justice for child victims of sexual abuse is necessary for the children to overcome the trauma. In fact, the POCSO act also mandates the designation of special courts. Despite a legislative mandate and designation of certain special courts, it is concerning to note that the pendency of these is still very high.
Featured Image: NCRB’s Crime in India Report