Case Studies

Children must be heard in sexual abuse cases

April 2020 | India

In a serious case of child abuse by a family member, iProbono’s panel successfully argued for the conviction of the offender to be upheld in the Delhi High Court.

Riya and her siblings were abandoned by their father after their mother died in 2014. Riya was brought to Delhi to live with her aunt in whose care she was often left at the house of another woman and made to fill lime (chuna bharna). While in her new home, she was repeatedly sexually assaulted by her uncle. After a few months, Riya ran away and was found by the police alone on a bus. She shared her story with the police, who tracked the accused and filed a complaint. During the trial, the prosecution proved that Riya was sexually assaulted by her uncle, the accused when she was less than 12 years old (which carries higher punishment provisions under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act). The case was supported by her consistent statements and medical evidence. The trial court convicted Riya’s uncle and sentenced him to 5 years rigorous imprisonment together with a fine.

The accused appealed to the Delhi High Court in 2017, challenging his conviction and at this stage, the case was referred to iProbono. Shyel Trehan, iProbono’s panel lawyer represented Riya and opposed the appeal.

Counsel for the accused argued that Riya’s statements to the police with a counsellor present were materially inconsistent, as was her statement under s.164 of the Criminal Procedure Code and her deposition before the trial court. Shyel argued that:

  • The inconsistencies highlighted were not material and Riya was in fact consistent in all her statements that her uncle used to touch her private parts; and
  • While the MLC recorded that her hymen appeared to be intact; it was patulous (lax), slightly wide, and according to the doctor’s testimony sexual assault could not be ruled out.
  • The court was satisfied Riya’s ordeal was described consistently in her statements and corroborated by the medical evidence.

Importantly, the court did not accept that a child so young could conceive a devious plan and make false allegations against a relative just because he scolded her and made her do her school work, as was alleged by the accused.

Thus, in January 2020, the clear and powerful arguments delivered by Riya’s legal team convinced the court to uphold the conviction and ensure the child received justice.

Read the judgment here.

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