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Framing of All Relevant Charges in POCSO Cases: A Significant Conviction
iProbono panel lawyers Manvi Priya and Sanya Kumar, in July 2022, successfully assisted the prosecution to represent Shweta*, a survivor of sexual abuse, in New Delhi.
Shweta was an immigrant from Assam who was brought to Delhi for household work.
Conviction & Compensation
In July 2022, the court found the accused guilty of sexually assaulting the girl in violation of Section 376(2)(n) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and sentenced him to 12 years of rigorous imprisonment. The court also granted Rs 7,00,000 as final compensation for Shweta’s rehabilitation.
In 2013, Shweta, who comes from an underprivileged family in Assam, was brought to Delhi to work as a domestic worker. The accused forced her to work at a house in Delhi for more than a year, but withheld her salary. Thereafter, he took her to his own house where he sexually and physically assaulted her several times. While she was confined at the house of the accused, Shweta managed to call a friend for help, and as a result, with the intervention of a local NGO and the police, she was rescued.
For an offence to fall under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, it has to be proved that the child was under the age of 18 at the time of the offence. However, during the investigation stage of the case, the Investigating Officer did not collect Shweta’s school records and other supporting documents for age determination so as to prove that she could have been under 18 years of age.
As a result, she had to undergo a medical examination for the purpose of age determination during the course of the trial. The medical board determined that she was between 17 and 18 years of age, following numerous examinations.
Given the uncertainty around the survivor’s age in the medical examination, the court held – relying on binding precedent – that the benefit of the doubt favours the accused whenever there is a question about the survivor’s age.
As a result, it was found that Shweta was older than 18 years when the offence was committed.
Since the original charges framed were only under the POCSO Act, our panel lawyers moved an application to add charges for rape under the IPC as well. This was important to the eventual outcome of the case since the accused was convicted only under the IPC.
The court relied on Shweta’s sole testimony, which remained coherent at all the stages of the case, including the initial statement before the magistrate under Section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), her examination in chief, and the cross-examination.
At the stage of sentencing, it was also pointed out that the accused had previously been accused of rape in another case but was acquitted on technical grounds. In light of this, as well as the fact that the accused took advantage of Shweta’s vulnerability and sexually assaulted her, the court sentenced the accused to rigorous imprisonment of 12 years. Under the Delhi Victim Compensation Scheme, 2018, Shweta also received final compensation of Rs 7,00,000 for her rehabilitation.
The judgment in Shweta’s case is significant because it demonstrates the importance of framing of all possible charges under which an accused might be convicted. It also explores the issues that arise during age determination in POCSO cases and is a great example of how lawyers can act in the best interest of the survivors and intervene to ensure that they are well-represented.
(*name changed to protect privacy)