As you enter the room, you immediately feel warm and welcomed. It is bright and well-ventilated, with pale green walls and wonderful wall art. There’s also quirky furniture, stationary, toys, colouring books and magazines for children. This is not a new-age school playroom or a posh doctor’s waiting area. This is the waiting room for kids who come to testify at the POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) court in Kochi.
The room was earlier a dark and dingy storeroom inside a dilapidated court building used for POCSO cases. Minors, mainly sexual abuse victims, who come for court examinations wait for several hours in this room before they are called inside. Now thanks to the efforts of Dilse, a city-based NGO, this has been converted into a warm and comforting waiting room.
“Some days, the court takes up 7 cases in a single day. So children, aged between 2 and a half and 18, who come to testify have to wait for hours before they are called. Sometimes they turn panicky while appearing before the court. It could be anxiety, fear and a myriad of emotions as they have to speak about their experiences of abuse in the court in front of strangers. They could also be worried on seeing the accused. In order to make the ordeal a little easier for them, we decided to make the waiting room colourful and child-friendly,” said Sandhya Rani, prosecutor at the POCSO court Kochi.
The idea of a child-friendly room was initiated by Cristelle Hart Singh, an Anglo-Swiss child rights worker and the founder of Dilse.
“The court was initially housed in the revenue tower, a relatively modern building with good facilities. Then they shifted it to a rundown colonial style court building in Kochi and the waiting room was very dingy. So my husband and I decided to give it a facelift,” Cristelle told TNM.
The room now is bright and well-ventilated, with pale green walls and wonderful wall art. There’s also quirky furniture, stationary, toys, colouring books and magazines for children to pass their time while waiting.
“My husband owns a furniture company called Mallet and Chiselle. They provided labour for free and Dilse bore the cost of the material. Another friend’s firm, Eunoians, painted the walls with quirky wall art, also free of charge. The judges and prosecutor too were very supportive. I would say it was a team effort,” adds Cristelle, who has been running Dilse in Kochi for 17 years now.
According to Sandhya, the child-friendly waiting room is the first of its kind in Kerala.
“There are other POCSO courts in the country, such as in Goa, where children’s rooms are available. We were inspired by this and we decided to turn Kochi POCSO court child-friendly too,” she said.
The waiting room is accessible to parents of the kids only if they are not the accused in the case.