An important part of the rehabilitative provisions of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012 is the idea of granting interim compensation for child survivors of abuse. Section 33 (8) of the POCSO Act, 2012 and Rule 9(1) of POCSO Rules, 2020, lays out these provisions, which empower the Special Court to grant interim compensation to child survivors of abuse, for physical and emotional trauma or for their immediate rehabilitation. Contrary to certain misapprehensions, the compensation is not granted by the state on account of lapses in their administration or as a way to compensate the child who has faced the crime. Instead, the aim is to help the survivor and their family, and to allow them to focus on the child’s rehabilitation.

The importance of interim compensation has long been recognised by the judicial system. Recently, Hon’ble Justice Jasmeet Singh of the Delhi High Court in X vs State of NCT of Delhi said, “The interim compensation is mandatory provision. Therefore, an outright rejection of compensation to survivors of sexual abuse who turn hostile or do not succeed in conviction of the accused would result in ignoring the failures of the State in protecting survivors of sexual abuse, and in providing them fullest support as envisaged under the Constitution, the POCSO Act and Rules. Even in the absence of conviction (for whatever reasons), in cases of sexual abuse, the child has undergone severe physical, social and psychological trauma. The child cannot be left to his/her state in the absence of conviction. As the Parliamentary Standing Committee examining the POCSO Bill 2012 had noted that the “legislation will remain unfulfilled if both the preventive and rehabilitative aspects remain side-lined.”

Several factors are considered while granting interim compensation, ranging from the gravity of the offense, any losses incurred by the child, and expenditure incurred by their family due to the offense. In order to grant compensation, the judge directs the Investigating Officer (IO) to submit a Victim Impact Report (VIR) focusing on these factors. After analysing the application for interim compensation along with the VIR filed by the IO, the quantum of compensation is decided and an order granting the compensation is passed. In many cases in Delhi, judges have also granted compensation to children on a suo moto basis.

Rule 9(5) of the POCSO Rules, 2020 states that “The State Government shall pay the compensation ordered by the Special Court within 30 days of receipt of such order.” Unfortunately, in practice, it often takes much longer for the amount to be paid. There are substantial delays in preparing, verifying and submitting the documents required for the process, which leads to delays in the disbursement of compensation. In over 65 cases where iProbono is providing legal or psycho-social support to children, and where compensation was granted by the Special Court, not a single case saw the amount being disbursed within 30 days. The minimum time taken in these cases was 60 days and the maximum was 14 months, with some cases still pending.

In November 2022, iProbono’s team filed Right to Information (RTI) applications before the Delhi State Legal Services Authority (DSLSA), who are responsible for disbursing compensation to child survivors under POCSO.  We asked for information on the number of applications for interim compensation that they received, the number of applications where compensation was granted, and the number of applications pending disbursal.

We received data from only 8 out of the 11 District Legal Services Authority (DLSAs) established in the 11 districts of Delhi. 3 DLSAs responded by saying that they do not maintain the required data. In addition, the data provided regarding the number of applications received by the concerned DLSAs appears to be incomplete, as it indicates that only 4,234 applications were received by 8 DLSAs between 2017-2022. In one of these DLSAs, iProbono’s clients alone have filed more interim compensation applications than the total number of applications allegedly received, indicating that the data is entirely erroneous. Of these 4,234 applications, compensation was granted in 2,348 cases. 408 applications are pending before the 8 DLSAs where documents have not been submitted and/or processed, and in 285 cases, the relevant documents have been forwarded to the central office but the amounts have not yet been credited. All the DLSAs replied that they do not maintain any data regarding delays in disbursement of compensation.

Unfortunately, it is often minor procedural issues that create long delays. Like the fact that minors rarely have an individually operated bank account, which is the primary requirement for disbursement. This has been mandated to prevent misuse, and to make sure the child’s family doesn’t spend the entire amount on their own needs. But in practice, this requirement results in procedural delays. 

Even in cases where the child may have a bank account in their own name, other issues can come up. For instance, in Delhi, children studying in government schools have a bank account for minors in their own name. But there is a cap on the amount that can be transferred to such accounts. This means that sometimes the compensation amount is disbursed, but ends up being returned to the source. 

Rule 10(2) of the POCSO Rules 2020 does take such difficulties into account by stating: “The CWC[1] will also facilitate any procedure for opening a bank account, arranging for identity proofs, etc., with the assistance of DCPU[2] and support person[3].” Consequently, the CWC and support persons try to facilitate the opening of bank accounts, but many banks are reluctant to open an individually operated minor bank account and insist on opening a joint account with the parent/guardian.

For instance, iProbono’s client Child Payal (name changed) was awarded compensation in April 2022. Because her bank account was opened as a joint account with her mother, the compensation amount could not be credited. After efforts made by iProbono’s social workers, the account type was changed and the documents were submitted again. By that time, Payal’s documents were misplaced by the DLSA office, and her mother had to be called to submit them again. Unfortunately, Payal’s account was still not accepted by the DLSA, and a new bank account had to be opened in her name which was eventually accepted. Payal finally received her interim compensation amount in April 2023, over a year after it was granted by the Special Court.

Often the delay is caused by documentary requirements. The regulations ask the child to submit an Aadhar card, an Indian government-issued document that serves as proof of residence. Often, the address on the child’s Aadhar card can be of a different city or state. To update these details, it is required to furnish an address proof which is often difficult for families to provide, as they may not have a formal rent agreement with their landlords, and the bills they pay may not be in their names.

There are also cases where the child’s Aadhar card has been issued but is not available for different reasons. In these circumstances, getting a duplicate Aadhar card issued can be a challenge. In one such case where iProbono is providing assistance, the child is a victim of trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. Her Aadhar card was prepared by the persons who had trafficked her from her village and was confiscated by them. After the case was reported and the traffickers were taken into custody, her Aadhar card could not be found. It has been over 13 months since the Special Court had granted compensation but disbursement has not been initiated because her Aadhar details have not been retrieved till date, despite our team’s best efforts.

Finally, there is often a delay in communicating the compensation order from the Special Court to the concerned DSLSA, causing a further delay in verification and submission of documents. To compensate for this, support persons often get the documents verified from the IOs themselves. But support persons are not appointed in all POCSO cases, leaving a substantial gap in services. 

Given these challenges, it is heartening that recent notable judgements and guidelines issued by the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi recognise the importance of compensation for child sexual abuse survivors, and have sought to streamline the process. On the ground, however, the bottlenecks faced during the process of disbursement still remain. These cannot be attributed to any one cause; therefore it is essential that different stakeholders work together to unravel the knots.

DSLSAs need to be held accountable for the timelines within which compensation is disbursed. The first step in this process may be requiring them to maintain accurate data on their disbursal of compensation amounts. The authority should also investigate the various issues that crop up in the process of granting interim compensation and make necessary amendments to their rules to solve these problems.

In the case of Payal, the Special Court took the step of directing the concerned DLSA to submit a status report along with an explanation of the delay in disbursement. Such practices, if replicated by all Special Courts, will ensure accountability on the part of the DLSA and minimise delays.

Timely disbursal of interim compensation is essential for the effective rehabilitation of child survivors of abuse. At iProbono, we have worked on cases where the family needs financial support to pay for the child’s medical needs, to move their home away from the family of the accused, or to provide therapy and counselling for the child.  Ensuring that survivors get access to such compensation in the quickest possible time period is the only way to fulfil the intent behind this rehabilitative provision. 

[1] CWC: Child Welfare Committee constituted under Section 27 of the Juvenile Justice Act 2015

[2] DCPU: District Child Protection Unit means a Child Protection Unit for a District, established by the State Government under Section 106 of the Juvenile Justice Act 2015

[3] “Support person” means a person assigned by the Child Welfare Committee, in accordance with Rule 4(8) of the POCSO Rules 2020.

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