A town hall meeting was organized by CLPR, Alternative Law Forum, Amnesty India, CIEDS Collective, Enfold India, Hidden Pockets, PUCL, Prochild Coalition, Campaign Against Death Penalty for Child Rape and SICHREM on 5.5.2018 at the Jain University Auditorium.
The President of India had promulgated the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance on the 21st of April, which inter alia allows the courts to pronounce the death penalty for those convicted of raping children below the age of 12. The seminar sought to discuss whether the death penalty could stop child sexual abuse.
The panel consisted of (Retd.) Justice V. Gopala Gowda of Supreme Court of India, the Former Deputy General and Inspector General of Police of Karnataka Mr. S.T. Ramesh, the Founder of Enfold India Dr. Shaibya Saldanha, Advocate at Supreme Court of India and High Court of Karnataka Adv. Jayna Kothari, Independent Legal Researcher of Child Rights Ms. Swagata Raha, journalist Mr. N. Jayaram, and Ms. Khushboo Singh, Member of People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Karnataka, who is a PhD research scholar in the Department of Sociology, University of Delhi (via Skype).
Ms. Swagata rued the lack of survivor friendly measures in the current framework, and explained why harsher punishments would not boost reporting of offences under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (“POCSO”).
Dr. Shaibya Saldanha spoke from a victim’s perspective. She preferred to highlight a child’s ignorance, arising out of parents’ failure to teach the right values, rather than the child’s innocence.
Adv. Jayna Kothari discussed the effectiveness of fast-track courts established under the POCSO, supported by the study – The Myth of Speedy and Substantive Justice, conducted by CLPR in 2015. The study found that conviction rates in POCSO cases in the Special Fast Track Courts were only 16.8%. High acquittal rates were primarily due to hostile witnesses and improper appreciation of evidence. These are factors that need to be addressed in the criminal justice system for better implementation of the law, and not introduction of the death penalty for cases of child rape.
Mr. N. Jayaram discussed the problematic area of death penalty through the prism of human rights. He also discussed the specific problems of extradition treaties with abolitionist nations, and the challenges it posed.
Ms. Kushboo stressed on a survivor-centric model explaining that most public discourses are restricted to perpetrators. The role of law in rehabilitating the victim and redressal mechanisms remains to be developed further.
(Retd.) Justice V. Gopala Gowda emphasized the need for implementation of laws, while lamenting the incompetence of authorities in registering, investigating, litigating and deciding on these matters.
The seminar concluded with an interactive session of questions and comments from the audience.
(Stephanie Haydon, an intern from School of Law Christ University, wrote this post.)