Only three per cent of POCSO cases in last five years in Tamil Nadu saw interim compensation being awarded
According to the response to an RTI query, as many as 3,153 cases have been committed to court under POCSO in 25 (of 32) districts. Of these, in only 95 cases has interim compensation been awarded.
CHENNAI: Priya (name changed) was 15 years old when she was sexually assaulted, allegedly by her neighbour. The neighbour had been stalking her for a while, following her as she went to school, to church. One day, in February 2015, he cornered her, forced her onto his bike, took her to a secluded place and raped her. A few days later, he threatened her, claiming to have a video of the rape, and raped her again. She got pregnant, underwent an abortion and discontinued schooling.
The assault and the case that followed (it is still under trial) has added to the stresses of Priya’s family.
What would have eased their burden would have been an award of interim compensation that a special court may provide under the rules of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.
“Had the interim compensation been given, it would have helped at least with the medical expenses. Now, it has been four years,” said a relative of Priya, whose mother lives with schizophrenia and father works as a security guard to provide for the family.
Unfortunately, Express found that Priya’s is hardly an unusual case. In fact, in only three per cent of POCSO cases that have been committed to the court from 2013 to 2018 in 25 districts of Tamil Nadu (for which data is available) has an interim compensation ever been awarded. According to the response to an RTI query filed by an NGO, as many as 3,153 cases have been committed to court under POCSO in 25 (of 32) districts of Tamil Nadu. Of these, in only 95 cases has interim compensation, under Rule 7 of POCSO, ever been awarded. Interim compensation has been awarded in 30 (out of 53 cases committed to court) in Chennai district, 27 (of 102) in Erode district and 17 (of 328) in Vellore district.
What is interim compensation?
Rule 7 of the POCSO Act says, “The special court may, in appropriate cases, on its own or on an application filed by or on behalf of the child, pass an order of interim compensation to meet the immediate needs of the child for relief and rehabilitation at any stage after registration of the First Hand Report. Such interim compensation paid to the child shall be adjusted against the final compensation if any.”
The criteria based on which the amount of compensation to be awarded is fixed includes: severity of the mental or physical harm or injury suffered by the child, expenditure incurred or likely to be incurred for his/her medical treatment for physical and/or mental health; and any disability suffered by the child as a result of the offence.
P Selvi, an advocate with the Madras High Court, explained that once the FIR is filed, the court can, on its own, order for an interim compensation to be awarded. Alternately, an application or affidavit can be submitted to the court on behalf of the survivor.
The court would then pass an order fixing the amount of compensation and directing the state government to release the funds from the victim compensation fund. Normally, the funds are taken from the State Home department. The amount is disbursed through the district collector.
The amount, that may be small, would help with medical and other expenses. For instance, if the child had to be taken to the hospital, the parents may lose a day’s wages and incur costs for transport, food and medical expenses. These may be unaffordable for poorer families. But if the procedure is so straightforward, why are so many survivors of heinous crimes going without such vital relief?
Simply not that simple
Express spoke to a range of stakeholders from across the State — district collectors, police officials, members of the judiciary, child protection officers, lawyers, survivors and activists.
The response was unanimous: there is a lack of awareness among survivors and their families that such a compensation can be demanded. More worrying, however, is that even some of those part of the system did not know that such relief was available or were reluctant to ensure it was awarded. Others confused it with a final compensation that can be awarded at the time of sentencing under the Code of Criminal Procedure. This seemed to explain why few could or would guide the survivors towards accessing this relief.
Another wrinkle that Express found is that the procedure for seeking and awarding of the compensation varying ever so slightly across districts. For instance, while Selvi said a court could award the relief on its own or an application seeking relief may be made to the court, a district judge from Tiruchy, where 11 cases have been awarded interim compensation from 2013-18, said, once the FIR is filed, a petition for relief can be submitted to the superintendent or the police commissioner. The SP or commissioner would consult with the district collector and fix an amount for interim compensation amount which will be provided. The judge said the court could also take suo moto notice and direct the collector to release interim compensation after the victim submitted supporting documents.
Another child rights activist who has worked on 75 cases of child sexual abuse, said not one of the survivors had received an interim compensation and blamed the police for not ensuring that trials started on time.
“I believe it is the failure of the police. They fail to produce documents at the court for the trial to begin. Once the trial begins, then, interim compensation may be provided. Though it is a small amount, it would be useful for the survivor’s medical expense or if the family wants to relocate due to the trauma or if the child needs counselling,” she added. On the other hand, a district child protection officer said it was the court’s responsibility to inform the child and family.
Meanwhile, a special public prosecutor (PP) noted that most PPs do not inform the survivor that they are eligible for interim compensation unless they are asked about such relief. Further, the sheer number of people (court, police, legal aid, collector) involved in ensuring release of funds seems to make it simpler for stakeholders to simply steer clear of the matter altogether.
Buck stops at courts
However, the buck may have to stop at the courts, as there appeared consensus that the courts could order interim relief on their own.
Unfortunately, few judges seem to be doing this. An advocate at the Madras High Court said, in most cases, the courts failed to even consider that survivors might need an interim compensation.
“Very few judges grant interim compensation at any stage of a trial. A few judges delay awarding such a compensation until key witnesses testify or all witnesses testify, even if that is not required,” the lawyer said.
“It is extremely disheartening that compensation is awarded in a completely arbitrary or erratic way. Out of the thousands of cases that are committed to the court so few survivors receive interim compensation. What is even more galling is that the stakeholders who know about the compensation are not advocating for it and most of them are unaware of the procedure to avail of the funds,” said Vidya Reddy of Tulir - Centre for the Prevention and Healing of Child Sexual Abuse.
N Lalitha, an advocate with the Madras High Court, managed to ensure that two survivors received an interim compensation.
“On behalf of the survivor, a petition was filed with the Ariyalur SP which was forwarded to the court. The court ordered the Ariyalur Collector to grant Rs 2.5 lakh to the victim as interim compensation,” she said, adding that once such cases are reported the police or the courts have to tell the victim they are eligible for the interim compensation.