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'One must be careful when categorising POCSO case as elopement', say experts  in Tamil Nadu

Though aimed at reducing caseload of special courts, stakeholders caution that all such cases may not be consensual and more needs to be done to tackle delays.

Published: 11th October 2021 08:41 AM  |   Last Updated: 11th October 2021 08:45 AM   |  A+A-

POCSO, Rape, Sexual Assault

Image used for representation. (Photo | Express Illustrations)

Express News Service

MADURAI:  In an attempt to ease the burden of special courts handling POCSO Act cases in three districts - Madurai, Salem and Tiruvannamalai - the Tamil Nadu government on May 21 issued a G.O. transferring such cases, involving girls aged between 16 and 18, to Mahila courts.

The move followed a POCSO committee decision, dated December 3, 2020, to shift out these cases as many pertained to girls eloping and getting married. The Act does not recognise consent of a person below the age of 18.

As per the G.O., the Mahila courts in these districts have been designated additional special courts for POCSO Act cases, while the existing special courts in the districts are designated as principal special courts. However, stakeholders have raised some concerns.

Advocate U Nirmala Rani stressed one must be careful when categorising a POCSO case as an elopement case. "We can't simply assume that in an elopement case, the victim has given consent and the guy should be acquitted. We may not know whether informed consent was given," she explained.

“In some cases, the victims (in the 16-18 age group) were coerced physically or emotionally to consent. One of them said she couldn’t speak up because the accused threatened to die by suicide. In another case, the victim, after eloping, was gangraped by the accused’s friends,” she explained.

Sometimes the accused youth may also be under the age of 20 and be equally clueless, she pointed out, adding a harsh punishment in such cases could be detrimental to both the victim and the accused. “As a Madras High Court judgment recently pointed out, an amendment in the Act - with regard the age of the victim and accused - alone can be an effective remedy.”

Vidya Reddy of the Tulir-Centre for Prevention & Healing of Child Sexual Abuse (CPHCSA) agreed elopement cases are clogging the system, and hoped the G.O. is implemented in other districts too.

However, she expressed concerns on whether the transferred cases would be heard without compromising on the victim-friendly procedures prescribed by POCSO Act. Moreover, given Mahila courts have their own backlog, it remains to be seen if transfer of cases to those courts will ensure expeditious resolution, she said.

Though sources admitted facilities such as child-friendly courtrooms are not available at the Mahila court in Madurai, public prosecutor P Thangam of the court said all procedures prescribed in POCSO Act would be followed and they would be disposed of within the deadline stipulated by the Act - 90 days for filing chargesheet; one year for completing trial. But would the court be overburdened? "There are two public prosecutors and additional staff here. So, we hope it won’t be an issue."

Advocate Rani hoped the G.O. did not send a wrong message to police, most of whom already view cases of missing girls or women as elopement cases. "Only a periodical review of judgments and sensitisation of stakeholders will prevent or, at least, reduce moral policing in treatment of POCSO cases," she added.



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