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Delay in Courts Trial pushing Victims of Sexual Assault to out of Court Settlement with Accused

In one of the most disturbing testimonies during the trial in Yeroor case, the seven-year-old victim was heard asking Mama nammal engotta pone (uncle, where are we going)? to the man who brutally raped & murdered her.

She seemed happy & carefree & they were about to enter the forest mouth. Her question, so full of innocence & trust, made the entire court tear-up & it was just one of the many emotionally charged moments during the trial.

G. Mohanraj, who appeared for the prosecution, says it was a trust vs lust scenario & as in many cases the accused was a member of the immediate family, living in the same premises.

The child was handed over by her grandmother when he, a close relative, offered to drop her at school. Unaware of the impending doom, the child walked hand-in-hand with the man to a nearby forest where she was sexually abused.

The 25-year-old man was immediately nabbed & his DNA matched with that found in the girl’s body. “During the trial the entire village stood by the family. It was really heart-warming to see the way they expressed their solidarity by supporting the mother through the entire legal proceedings,” Mr. Mohanraj says.

The girl was murdered on 27 September 2017 & it took nearly two years for the Kollam Additional Sessions (POCSO) court to award the convict triple life term, 26 years of rigorous imprisonment, & a fine of ₹3.2 lakh. Yet, it is considered one of the fastest convictions, taking into account the pendency of many POCSO cases.

“The accused was arrested immediately but there was considerable delay in getting the forensic reports due to the backlog. Though the POCSO Act mandates disposal of the appeal in six months, it is not always practical,” says Mr. Mohanraj.

And this delay in disposal often leads to out-of-court settlements & acquittal as the victim & family refuse to revisit the trauma after a gap.

“It takes some two to three years for the trial to start in some cases. There are girls who get married by the time & they prefer not to appear before the court. When they get the summons they try to settle it somehow as they feel going ahead with the case will affect their family life,” says G.Suhothran, public prosecutor, who has handled over 200 POCSO cases since March 2018. In many cases, the perpetrators go absconding & by the time they are arrested & the case comes before the court, the victim & family will not be ready to face it.

“About 90% of the parents want the case to end due to the stigma associated, so they will turn hostile at the time of trial & refuse to support the prosecution,” he adds.

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