Courts must come to children, says Supreme Court
- India’s status as a “technological powerhouse” is in jeopardy if it cannot use technology to protect its children.
- This was observed by the Supreme Court while directing that video conferencing facilities be established across the country for child witnesses, especially victims of trafficking, to remotely testify against their attackers.
- The court highlighted how the pandemic had put more children out of school and into forced labour.
- Cases of child trafficking and abuse were bound to rise. Judiciary had to be prepared.
- The court confirmed a standard operating procedure (SOP) prepared by its amicus curiae, advocate Gaurav Agrawal, and senior advocate Anita Shenoy, for recording the evidence of child witnesses through videoconferencing.
- The apex court said the High Courts too, on consultation, had given their nod to the SOP.
- According to this SOP, a child can testify either at the ‘court point’, that is, cities or places where the trial has to take place, or at the ‘remote point’, which is his or her place of residence.
Safeguards in SOP
- The SOP said that the videoconferencing facility should be created in every district, especially in States where incidence of child trafficking cases are high.
- Other safeguards prescribed by the SOP include compliance of the “best practices” mandated by the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Rules, 2020, while recording the evidence of child witnesses.
- These will include the following:
- Ensuring that the child witness is provided diet money on the basis of the distance travelled by him or her to reach the remote point.
- Presence of a police officer at the remote point to make certain that the child witness does not come in contact with the accused (if out on bail) or any relative of the accused, etc.
Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act: Making court child-friendly
- The Act has been enacted to protect children from offences of sexual assault, sexual harassment and pornography and provide for establishment of Special Courts for trial of such offences and related matters and incidents.
- The special court will ensure the following:
- Ensure presence of familiar people through the legal process.
- Allow the child’s family member/relative/friend or guardian to be present with him/her during the trial.
- Ensure that the legal process is not strenuous for the Child.
- Allow frequent breaks for the child during the trial.
- Not call the child to the Court repeatedly to testify.
- In special circumstances, the child need not come to Court and make statements.
- Try and ensure that the evidence is recorded within 30 days and the trial is completed within one year.
- Ensure that the child is not exposed to the accused in any way during the Trial.
- However, the Court has to ensure that accused can hear the child’s statement.
- This can be achieved through one-sided mirrors, curtains or through a video call.