Country Director, iProbono India
New Delhi: iProbono successfully represented Yasmin*, a 16-year old survivor of incest and child abuse, before the Delhi High Court. Yasmin is currently at a shelter home under the care of the Child Welfare Committee. Her brother, who is sixteen years older than her, is accused of sexually abusing her since she was 7 years old.
Her story speaks to the horrifying numbers of incest and rape cases in India. Born to a poor family of eight members, Yasmin was sexually abused by her brother. She frequently complained to her parents, who refused to believe her which allowed the abuse to continue for seven long years.
Despite her despair and helplessness, Yasmin gathered the courage to leave home and complain to the police, who placed her in the custody of a shelter under the Child Welfare Committee (CWC). Her brother is booked under Section 376 of the IPC and her parents have been booked under section 21 of the POCSO Act for failing to report the abuse. The CWC placed her in a shelter home for child survivors of sexual abuse in March 2015.
It has been nearly six months since Yasmin began living at the shelter and she displays the will to go to school, continue her education and to ensure her own safety in the future. The Counsel to Secure Justice (CSJ) are representing her before the trial court and are providing counselling sessions to her. CSJ is also providing a designated social worker to her while she lives in the shelter. The trial in the criminal case is scheduled to begin in the first week of September and the parents of the child filed a habeas corpus petition seeking custody of the girl.
Swathi Sukumar, Country Director, iProbono India, represented the shelter home, which is the interim guardian of the child and argued in favour of the child continuing to reside at the shelter while trial is pending, to ensure that she is not subject to any coercion that could lead to the retraction of her unequivocal stand.
A Division Bench of the Delhi High Court, after meeting the child and upon hearing arguments on the matter held that it was not in the best interests of the child to be returned to her home while trial in the matter is pending. The Court observed that the child expressed her wish to remain in the shelter, and held that it was in her best interests to remain in a secure environment, especially while the trial is pending.
Swathi says, "In cases of child sexual abuse within the home, the conventional framework of guardianship proves insufficient to meet the challenges of protecting a child’s interests against her own family. India needs a comprehensive policy to address the peculiar problems posed by these cases, bearing in mind the interests of the child, the demands of the criminal justice system and the inherent complexities of familial ties."
*Name changed due to privacy reasons
Image used for representational purposes only. Copyright Flickr