Do all the cases registered under The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO Act) in Kerala end up in convicting accused? Do all of them even reach trial? Well, according to activists and others working in rescuing and rehabilitation of sexual abuse survivors, the answer is no.
There are many factors that stand in the way to ensure a fair trial, and thus punishment, for the accused. These include attempts to hush up cases, out of court settlements, and influencing the survivorâ€™s family, who in most cases are downtrodden and vulnerable.
The more serious allegation activists raise is that members of many district level Child Welfare Committees (CWC) send back the survivors to their homes even when the accused are family members.
Perception that family stands beyond everything
There are many instances of making the survivors stay at their homes even if their relatives are the accused. â€śEven when the father is the accused, the child would be sent with her mother to the same home. In some cases, even fake records would be created to show that a house is rented, and the child is sent there. What prompts the CWC officials to do this is their perception that family stands beyond everything and it is the ultimate shelter for girls,â€ť an activist says.
The same happened in a few cases where mothers were the accused. â€śIn Idukki, a mother sent her two daughters to a person, who wanted to sexually abuse them. Even in that case the child was sent back to the house. The survivors are even be sent to live with their brothers, who are just 18 or 19 years old. In some cases, the survivors, after they turn 18, would land in the clutches of the accused themselves,â€ť the activist said.
Another activist said that in cases where the families are vulnerable, it is easier to influence them. â€śThere is even a group of lawyers who act as mediators between the childrenâ€™s families and the accused. In cases in which the accused are rich and powerful, the lawyers would mediate, make the survivors poorer and receive money from the accused. The accused find it easy to evade punishment by giving money,â€ť the activist added.
CWC acts subjectively
â€śMembers of the CWC act subjectively. Their religion even comes in the way of taking decisions, such as when rehabilitating the survivors in Nirbhaya homes. Their morality sometimes beats reality. A Chairperson of a CWC in a northern district acts with upper caste prejudice and looks at the tribes, from among whom POCSO cases are widely reported, with apathy,â€ť a source said.
PE Usha, Mahila Samakhya Society project director echoes this opinion. â€śYes, they act subjectively. Itâ€™s high time that the CWCs should be strengthened. Trials in the POCSO cases are particularly crucial.â€ť
Usha says that there are 5,000 pending POCSO cases in the state from all districts. In the 48 cases in which the survivors were housed in the Nirbhaya homes under Mahila Samakhya Society, the accused were punished in 45 cases.
Itâ€™s the CWC which refers cases to Mahila Samakhya, while the role of rescuing the children are done by ChildLine. â€śEven ChildLine canâ€™t rescue all the children who are subjected for sexual abuse. Once someone asked me are all the children, whom Childline care for, from underprivileged families? And he was right,â€ť the source added.
Many opine that one solution was to set up fast track courts that deal with crimes of a sexual nature, an element that Kerala does not have currently.