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A single bench of Justice C. Hari Shankar, in his judgment, upheld the dependability of testimonies from Child Witnesses.  The bench, while holding the conviction of child rapist said “There is no prohibition on children being witnesses, whether in civil or criminal cases. The only circumstance in which the statute proscribes reliance on such evidence, is where the child is prevented from understanding the questions put to him, or from giving rational answers to such questions, by reason of his/her age.”

The appellant alias Prem Bahadur took the prosecutrix on the pretext of buying her clothes. However, he took her to a village near Anand Vihar and repeatedly raped her. He had kept the prosecutrix for a month after which she somehow escaped and was rescued by a lady nearby.

The Court, convicted Bahadur of committing offence under Sections 363 (Kidnapping), 366, 376 (Rape) ,  506 (Criminal Intimidation) of the Indian Penal Code and section 6 of the Protection Of Children From Sexual offences Act (POCSO) and sentenced him to 10 years of rigorous imprisonment and a total fine of Rs 18,000.

In the arguments, the council of appellant-accused said that since the reports indicates only a slight tearing of hymen so the offence should be termed as a penetrative sexual act. However, the court differing to this argument opined that penile penetration, even without reaching the hymen, would be sufficient to answer the definition of penetrative sexual assault.

The  following  guiding  principles,  governing  the admissibility  and  reliability  of  the  evidence  of  child witnesses,  are  readily  discernible  from  the  cited judicial pronouncements:

  1. There is no absolute principle, to the effect that the evidence of child witnesses cannot inspire confidence, or be relied upon.
  2. Section 118  of  the  Indian  Evidence  Act, 1872   discounts  the   competence,   of   persons   of tender   age,   to   testify,   only   where   they   are prevented from understanding the questions put to them,  or  from  giving  rational  answers  to  those questions, on account of their age.
  3. If, therefore,   the   child   witness   is   found competent to depose to the facts, and is reliable, his evidence can be relied upon and can constitute the basis of conviction.
  4. The Court has to ascertain, for this purpose, whether (a)  the  witness  is  able  to  understand  the questions  put  to  him  and  give  rational  answers thereto, (b) the demeanour of the witness is similar to  that  of  any  other  competent  witness,  (c)  the witness    possesses    sufficient    intelligence    and comprehension, to depose,(d) the witness was not tutored,  (e) the  witness  is  in  a  position  to  discern between  the  right  and  wrong,  truth  and  untruth, and    (f)    the    witness    fully    understands    the implications   of   what   he   says,   as   well   as   the sanctity  that  would  attach  to  the  evidence  being given by him.
  5. The presumption  is  that  every  witness  is competent  to  depose,  unless  the  court  considers that  he  is  prevented  from  doing  so,  for  one  of  the reasons  set  out  under  Section  118  of  the  Indian Evidence  Act,    It  is,  therefore,  desirable  that judges  and  Magistrates  should  always  record their positive opinion that the child understands the duty of speaking the truth, as, otherwise, the credibility of  the  witness  would  be  seriously  affected,  and may become liable to rejection altogether.
  6. Inasmuch as the Trial Court would have the child before  it,  and  would  be  in  a  position  to accurately  assess  the  competence  of  the  child  to depose,  the  subjective  decision  of  the  Trial  Court, in this regard, deserves to be accorded due respect. The   appellate   court   would   interfere,   therewith, only  where  the  record  indicates,  unambiguously, that  the  child  was  not  competent  to  depose  as  a witness,  or  that  his  deposition  was    Twin, and to an extent mutually conflicting, considerations,  have  to  be  borne  in  mind,  while ascertaining  the  competency  of  a  child  witness  to justify. On the one hand, the evidence of the child witness   has   to   be   assessed   with   caution   and circumspection,   given   the   fact   that   children, especially  of  tender  years,  are  open  to  influence and  could  possibly  be  tutored.  On  the  other  hand, the    evidence    of    a    competent    child    witness commands  credibility,  as  children,  classically,  are assumed  to  bear  no  ill-will  and  malice  against anyone, and it is, therefore, much  more  likely that their evidence would be unbiased and uninfluenced by any extraneous considerations.
  7. It is    always    prudent    to    search    for corroborative evidence, where conviction is sought to  be  based,  to  a  greater  or  lesser  extent,  on  the evidence of a child witness. The availability of any such corroborative evidence would lend additional credibility to the testimony of the witness.

Delhi HC said, “In the facts of the present case, the conviction, of the appellant, by  the  learned  ASJ,  of  having  committed  the  offence  under  Section 366  of  the IPC,  which  deals  with  kidnapping  or  abduction  of  any woman,   in   order   that she   may   be   forced   or   seduced   to   illicit intercourse,  is  also  entirely  sustainable  in  law,  and  calls  for  no interference. On  the  aspect  of  sentence,  the  learned  ASJ  has,  if  anything, erred   on   the   side   of   leniency.   The   appellant   had   enticed   the prosecutrix,  who  was  playing  with  her  friends,  away  from  their company, deprived her of the warm sanctuary of her parents and loved ones, and transported her to what may be only termed a veritable hell-hole, in a distant village, where she was confined, under threat of her life,  in  a desolate room,  for  over  a  month,  and  subjected  to  repeated acts  of  sexual  assault.  The  acts  of  the  appellant betoken complete disregard  for  the  bodily,  mental  and  psychological  integrity  of  the prosecutrix,  solely  with  a  view  to  satisfy his unnatural sexual  urges.  The  degree  of  damage  to  the  child,  in  such  cases,  is  physical  and psychological in equal measure.  It is impossible for a court, peopled, after  all,  by lay  human  beings,  to  even  conceptualize,  let  alone visualize, what a child, such as the prosecutrix, must have undergone, every traumatic second of the span of her confinement.”

Rape  is,  on  every  occasion  and  without  exception,  a  crime  of power,  more  than  one  of  lust,  and,  when  committed  on  a  child,  is  a brute  and unrelentingly savage  expression  thereof.    No  clemency  or mercy,  whatsoever,  can  be  shown  to  the  perpetrator  of  such  an  act, especially when the perpetration is in full possession of the senses and faculties of the perpetrator”, said Justice C Hari Shankar while upholding the judgment of the trial Court.

-India Legal Bureau

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