Mumbai: Nobel laureate Nelson Mandela once said that our children are our greatest “treasure and future” and those who abuse them “weaken our nation.” The Supreme Court of India recently referred this while directing the Bombay High Court and also other High Courts in the country to consider setting up special “child friendly and vulnerable” witnesses court.
Pursuant to the orders passed by the division bench of Justice Madan Lokur and Justice Deepak Gupta of the SC, the Bombay HC recently took up a suo motu PIL to ensure the laws pertaining to children like the Juvenile Justice Act, are implemented in letter and spirit. Accordingly, last month, a division bench headed by Justice Naresh Patil of the Bombay HC, issued a series of directions to the Maharashtra government asking it to set up child friendly courts.
However, noted psychiatrist Dr. Harish Shetty is sceptical over the implementation of the orders issued by the SC and the HC. In a conversation with the Free Press Journal, Shetty said, “I appreciate the fact that the cognizance of the issue has been taken. I am glad that finally the issue is considered though late. But what I am concerned of is the implementation of the orders directing establishment of child friendly courts.”
“As far as I understand, the orders speak of providing infrastructure for child friendly courts but I think that would not be sufficient. I believe that not only the infrastructure but there must also be a change in the approach of the advocates and the judges,” Shetty added.
It may be noted that in cases wherein children are victims or witnesses, they are produced in the normal criminal/civil courts or at the most in the chambers of the judges. Also, sometimes, the proceedings related to children are conducted ‘in-camera.’
According to Shetty, “I have witnessed several cases where the child is produced as a witness and the advocate, who is examining or cross-examining the minor is as ruthless as s/he can be. This mentality needs to be changed as such an approach would not only suppress the truth but also traumatise a child for his entire life.”
“We need to change the manner of dealing with children inside the courtrooms. They cannot be subjected to the harshness and ruthlessness the way adult witnesses are. I believe the bar and the bench both must be given special trainings on this issue. There is a need of sensitisation of both the bar associations as well as the judges handling cases pertaining to minors,” Shetty opined.
In its judgement passed in February this year, the Apex Court had said, “It is time for the State to strongly and proactively acknowledge that even children in our country have fundamental rights and human rights and they need to be enforced equally strongly.” the SC observed.
“It is often said that the experience in our courts of a juvenile accused of an offence or the victim of a sexual offence is traumatic. We need to have some compassion towards them – even juveniles in conflict with law, since they are entitled to the presumption of innocence – and establishing child friendly courts and vulnerable witness courts is perhaps one manner in which the justice delivery system can respond to ease their pain and suffering,” the SC observed.
“Another advantage of such child friendly courts and vulnerable witness courts is that they can be used for trials in which adult women are victims of sexual offences since they too are often traumatized by the not so friendly setting and environment in our courts,” the judgement authored by Justice Lokur states. Noted psychiatrist Dr. Harish Shetty on establishments of child friendly courts as directed by the Supreme Court of India.
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