Saturday, November 8, 2008

Maharashtra notifies dedicated children's courts

The state of Maharashtra in India will set up special courts to try crimes against children up to the age of 18. The Commissions for Protection of Child Rights Act that came into force in January 2006 had mandated such courts, but it has taken the state three years to release a notification to this effect.

According to the statistics provided by the Maharashtra government, 2,707 cases of serious offences against children were registered in the state last year.

The special courts will ensure speedy justice to children who often reach adulthood by the time their cases come to trial in the excruciatingly slow Indian judicial system. Every district will have a children’s court with one judge and one public prosecutor.

Child rights activists hope that the special courts will be more sensitive to the needs and requirements of children who may be asked to give testimony or be cross-examined. The Supreme Court has laid down guidelines on how to record the testimony of a child; they include restricting direct testimony from a child victim, allowing for a screen between victim and accused, and using simple language. Activists have been asking for judges who conduct trials involving young children to be specially trained, and for testimony to be given via video-conferencing.

The special courts will need to be stronger on crimes like child prostitution as well as sexual abuse of children within families, social groups and in underprivileged situations such as in orphanages, and by tourists.

Sexual abuse of children is compounded by the fact that there are no specific laws against it. It is also a sensitive issue that occurs much more frequently than is reported. In 2005, Tulir, an organisation working in this field, did a survey of child sexual abuse among school-going children in Chennai; 42% of those surveyed had undergone some form of child abuse.

Children in conflict with the law come under the Juvenile Justice Board which consists of a metropolitan magistrate or a judicial magistrate of the first class, and two social workers, and is governed by the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Amendment Act, 2006.

Source: The Hindu, November 2, 2008

Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

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