As per the NCRB records, more than 90000 cases registered under POCSO were pending at the end of 2016. In that year, trial was complete in only 10884 such cases with a conviction rate of 29.6%, much less than the conviction rate of all IPC crimes.
The government issued an ordinance the other day amending the Indian Penal Code (IPC), Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) act. The ordinance seeks to enhance the quantum of punishment for perpetrators of sexual crimes against children in addition to imposing new timelines for investigation and trial of such cases.
More than 30000 cases being registered under POCSO
Every year, more than 30000 cases are being registered under various sections of POCSO with majority of them being Child rape incidents. In 2014, out of the 34449 cases registered under POCSO, 13766 were cases of Child rape (40% of all the cases). In 2015, 10854 child rape cases were reported out of the total 34505 cases registered under POCSO. In 2016, cases of Child rape accounted for a whopping 55% of all the cases registered under POCSO.
In each of these years, the number of cases in which trials were completed was around 10000. Trials were completed in 7487 cases in 2014, 10498 cases in 2015 and 10884 cases in 2016.
Huge Pendency & relatively low conviction rate
Even in those cases in which trials were complete, the conviction rate in the cases registered under POCSO was much less than the overall conviction rate in case of all IPC crimes. In 2014, it was 30.4% against 45.1% for all IPC crimes. In 2015, the conviction rate of cases under POCSO improved to 36.3% against 46.9% for all IPC crimes. In 2016, the conviction rate in cases registered under POCSO was down to 29.6% while it remained at 46.8% for all IPC crimes.
The low conviction rate is coupled with a high pendency of cases. By the end of 2016, more than 90000 cases registered under POCSO were pending for trial. At the current pace, it is going to take many years before the pending cases are cleared.
What does the Ordinance seek to do?
The ordinance enhances the punishment for rape of a child under 12 years of age to a minimum of 20 years which may extend to life imprisonment and even death. In the case of gang rape, the minimum punishment is life imprisonment which may extend to death penalty. The ordinance also seeks to set a timeline of 2 months for completion of investigation and two months for trial.
Will these changes help?
The changes proposed in the ordinance have to be complemented by reforms and efficiency both in the police & the lower judiciary. As per information shared by the government, there are more than 20% vacancies (against the sanctioned strength) in the police force across the country. Further, many states have failed to implement the six directions of the Supreme Court in Prakash Singh & others that were aimed at police reforms. Additionally, more than 20% of the posts are vacant in the lower judiciary. Unless there is a concerted effort by the Central & State governments to address these issues, there may be significant improvement in the situation.