“Restorative and Compensatory justice is an indispensable facet of contemporary criminal justice system and award of monetary compensation to victims of crime is the most basic step in that direction.”

State v. Vijay, SC/6784/2016

In December 2023, iProbono achieved a significant milestone by securing a conviction and an order granting Rs. 12.5 lakhs as compensation for a child survivor in a POCSO trial. In over a hundred cases where iProbono provided legal representation, this case marks the highest compensation ever granted to a beneficiary. So far, the compensation amount had not exceeded Rs. 7 lakhs. The case in question was about the sexual abuse of four-and-a-half-year-old Lavanya (name changed to protect identity) by her neighbour.

The case was referred to iProbono at a pre-trial stage by its partner organisation Counsel to Secure Justice (CSJ) in March 2018. From this fairly early stage, our team worked with the panel lawyer Nitin Saluja and CSJ to advocate for positive interventions throughout the legal proceedings. One of the key interventions was ensuring the child was not pressured to testify before she was ready to do so. By filing an application under Section 311 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973,  Nitin Saluja and iProbono’s senior program officer Nimisha Menon assisted the public prosecutor and secured the right for the child to testify when she felt comfortable and emotionally prepared. This child-centered approach minimised her exposure to the potentially intimidating court environment, a vital principle in child-friendly legal practices. By prioritising her needs and respecting her vulnerabilities, iProbono prevented unnecessary trauma and ensured justice was served compassionately.

Striking a crucial balance, iProbono also guaranteed the child’s legal rights were upheld, representing her at numerous bail hearings and ensuring she didn’t need to physically appear in court. Conversations between her and the judge were facilitated with due care till the end of the trial to ensure that she was not re-traumatised by the legal process.

The written submissions filed by panel lawyer Nitin Saluja during final arguments were incorporated in the final order on conviction and during sentencing. The judge convicted the accused on multiple accords concurrently for 12 years of rigorous imprisonment and imposed a fine amounting to a sum of Rs. 26,000. 

The abuse the child endured left deep psychological wounds and trauma. However, the young survivor has embarked on a remarkable journey of healing and transformation. Today, she is thriving in school, demonstrating resilience and strength. She is no longer defined by the trauma she endured and looks to a bright future with promise. The amount awarded to the child is a positive step and will help in achieving her future professional goals.

iProbono’s interventions were important in securing this laudable order, as both the panel lawyer as well as the program officer were abreast of recent legal developments, referencing them for the maximum benefit of their client. They duly and timely apprised the Special Court about the Delhi Victim Compensation Scheme, 2018, along with the instrumental judgment of the Hon’ble Delhi High Court in X v. NCT of Delhi, which entitles a child survivor of sexual abuse to at least Rs. 10.5 lakhs compensation at the discretion of the Special Court. They were able to proactively assist the court in calculating a figure which would be commensurate with the rehabilitation she required, as a consequence of the atrocities she had faced at the hands of the accused. The cited judgment emphasises the importance of a survivor’s rehabilitation. It passes directions to Special Courts across the Union territory to reexamine the current state of affairs and evaluate the educational, medical and financial needs of a child survivor from a rehabilitative lens. It states that “criminal claims the survivor’s life, if not physically then by affecting their mental and emotional state”.

This case marks the first of its kind of the many favourable outcomes that iProbono wishes to achieve for child survivors from vulnerable communities, by providing quality legal representation and advocating for their best interests. As an organisation that has worked on over a hundred cases of child sexual abuse, this judgment reinstates hope that even though progress can be slow, the outcome is worthwhile.

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