Child-friendly rape law debuts on ground

New Delhi, Dec. 7: An 11-year-old Delhi girl will become the first child rape victim in India to have her case tried under a separate law providing for counselling and minimal invasion of her privacy, and speedy trial and harsher punishment for the offender.

The vegetable vendor's daughter was allegedly raped a week ago by a neighbour ' a category of offence that accounts for two in five child rapes in the country.

Her case is the first to have been registered under the Protection of Children against Sexual Offences Act, passed in Parliament's monsoon session and notified on November 14.

Child rights activists are keeping a keen eye on the case. The trial is expected to start after the chargesheet is filed in about two months.

"Child rape victims will no longer be treated on a par with adults," said Yogesh Kumar of Pratidhi, an NGO designated by the state government's Child Welfare Committee to assist the girl and her family for the duration of the case.

"Earlier, all rape cases were dealt with under Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The new law for minor (under-18) rape victims provides a friendly atmosphere for them to lodge their complaint and testify."

Some of the significant differences between IPC 376 and the new act:

Overseer

The Child Welfare Committee supervises everything from registration of the complaint to the victim's medical examination and treatment.

Victim support

The committee appoints a social activist to provide counselling and emotional support to the victim and her family till the end of the trial.

"The activist shall keep the child informed about everything that goes on in the case," said Anant Asthana, Supreme Court lawyer and child rights activist. Section 376 provides for none of this.

Medical care

The committee ensures that after medical examination, the victim receives proper and free treatment. Section 376 only provides for a medical examination to verify the rape charge.

Compensation

The government is to provide interim compensation to the victim. The court, if it convicts the accused, will direct him to pay a compensation too.

Case registration

A child's statement can be recorded at home (Section 376 doesn't allow this). The police have 24 hours to approach the Child Welfare Committee and get the child medically examined.

In the Delhi girl's case, the committee told the police to register the case under the new law. The Telegraph has a copy of the December 3 order.

Cop check

The new law provides for six months' jail for any police officer who refuses to register a case following a rape complaint by a child or her family. Section 376 has no such explicit provision, and many police stations refuse to register the victims' first-person complaints, often asking their families to "settle the issue among yourselves".

Speedy trial

Special children's courts will try the cases and must complete the trial within a year of taking cognisance. Section 376 sets no such deadline.

National Crime Records Bureau data show that of the 28,143 child rapes registered in 2009-2011, trials had been completed in only 4,991 cases (18 per cent) till December 2011.

Court relief

The new law explicitly states that the child victim need not attend court proceedings repeatedly to have her statements recorded (in camera). She can be accompanied by a relative or someone she trusts, and translators should be provided whenever necessary.

"Recording of the statement and evidence are the most feared stages during the trial. The new law ensures a child's comfort and ease during these processes," Asthana, the lawyer-activist, said.

Sensitive court officials do try to ensure such cushions for victims even now but, in the absence of specific stipulations in Section 376, this is not always done.

Punishment

The minimum punishment is 10 years under the new act and seven years under Section 376.

Neither the victim nor her parents agreed to speak to this correspondent.