What’s the point of death penalty if most child rape cases are settled out of court?

Though people seem to be happy with President's approval for an Ordinance allowing courts to award death penalty to those convicted of raping children below 12 years of age, several experts feel it ma

Published: 23rd April 2018 02:36 AM  |   Last Updated: 23rd April 2018 05:13 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

HYDERABAD: Though people seem to be happy with President's approval for an Ordinance allowing courts to award death penalty to those convicted of raping children below 12 years of age, several experts feel it may not come to the rescue of many child victims. For, according to State-level statistics, it seems there are more acquittals than convictions. Experts say this is not because crimes do not take place, but because a majority of victims seek to settle the matter out of court.

According to a High Court advocate, the total number of Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) cases reported across Telangana in the last four years is approximately 3,000. Out of this, a whopping 1,000 perpetrators have been acquitted and only about a 100-odd have been convicted. The rest of the cases are under trial. Take the example of Bharosa Centre -- the only one in the State that has been to a major extent systematically carrying out the provisions of the POCSO Act. Out of 300-odd cases that came to it from 2015, there has been only 97 convictions.

While more than 150 are pending, a majority have been settled out of the court. "The main reason why this happens is because most of the victims are from families below the poverty line," says Spandana Sadasivuni, a legal prosecutor with Bharosa Centre. "Their parents are usually daily wagers who have to let go of the wages for that day. In the case of one minor girl, she has been made to come to court six times till now. This is nothing but re-victimisation. This is simply advocates' strategy to ensure that the culprits are saved," she said.

"Now this girl and her parents will also give up their demand for justice like many others. It also makes them depressed and puts them in need of psycho-social care which is not easily accessible," she added. One such case is that of a man who raped three children. He hasn't appeared in court even once. Instead he provided a medical certificate that said he is mentally unsound.The advocates also play smart and right before the trial they go missing, stating that they have other cases to attend," she added.

"We need the police here to take them into custody. Until the judge gives them a non-bailable warrant, they play these games," Spandana further added. In order to avoid all this, the victims settle with them for a small amount of money. Another legal expert, on condition of anonymity, said that they also give in to political pressure from small time leaders and settle the case. These reasons turn the cases into acquittals.

This can have a far reaching impact on the society and the widely prevalent 'rape culture', claim activists. "Keep punishment aside. Be it any death penalty or life imprisonment, acquittals through out of court settlements makes offenders far more confident. Today, people who commit rape, are recording it on video and proudly showcasing it. This is dangerous for the society," said Radhika Acharya, a child psychologist.

According to VK Singh, DG Prisons and correctional services, Telangana, those acquitted such will return to commit offences. "There is every possibility that they will commit the same crime again," he said. While the way media projects women is one reason, those who commit rapes are mostly disturbed and need reform, he added.

Achyuta Rao, founder of city-based NGO Balala Hakkula Sangham said that this needs to be looked at from a human rights perspective too where there need to be correctional programmes for criminals while ensuring that there are preventive measures to control crimes against children and women.

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