"There is no trust more sacred than the one the world holds with children. There is no duty more important than ensuring that their rights are respected, that their welfare is protected, that their lives are free from fear and want and that they can grow up in peace." – Kofi Annan

The option of Free Legal Aid and safe environment must be provided to every child

Prevent Child Sexual Abuse, POCSO Act, Sexual Harassments, Report Sexual Abuse India, Legal AidChildren are entitled to free legal aid under various provisions of Indian law, including Article 39A of the Constitution and Section 12(c) of the Legal Services Authority Act, 1987. Under this Act, children are listed as one of the categories of people entitled to free legal representation for any case, may it be a suit or defence. Moreover, there is a special provision under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act, 2012, Section 40 of the Act, which reaffirms this right to legal representation of the children by providing that a child or his/her family can appoint a counsel of their choice and if they are unable to afford the same, they are to be assigned a counsel from the relevant legal Aid Authority. Such legal aid authorities have branches down to the district and Taluka levels to provide easy and widespread access to the common people in need. Also, the law has taken especial care in manufacturing a system for children under POCSO Act that provides for child-friendly pretrial and trial procedures. Legal aid not limited to representation, advice and financial help to be provided. A range of legal aid is provided to the child that includes legal representation, legal counselling and advice. For legal representation, the police are responsible for availing the Application form for Legal services to the child when the report is being filed.

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REPRESENTATION

A Special Public Prosecutor is appointed for every Special Court under this Act and only those who have practised as an advocate for 7 years or more can be appointed by the State Government. Empanelment of lawyers in such cases is also a special consideration given the sensitivity of cases of sexual offences against children. The District Legal Services Authority must only empanel lawyers who are sufficiently qualified and well-experienced in the arena of child rights. The lawyers empanelled must include those advocates having an experience of 3 to 5 years along with junior lawyers. Empanelment should be for a year and subject to extension based on performance reviews. The Special Public Prosecutor is in charge of it in front of the Special Court. He is, however, supplemented by the child's lawyer who is relied upon to evaluate the nature and extent of abuse, identify the culprits, and securing the child's interests in terms of the verdict as well as compensation provided for under section 33(8) of the Act. Both, the Public prosecutor and the child's lawyer are supposed to work in tandem to put the child's issues in front of the Court. The lawyer is duty bound to provide legal representation and advice to the child independently, to convey the child's view to the Court while not forcing the child or revealing views told to him by the child in confidence. He is duty bound to function as a representative in the child's best interest, follow the child's instructions as a general rule, explore all issues in Court, make submissions of child's behalf and attempt to secure compensation for the child.

ADVICE AND COUNSELLING

Legal Aid cells are the ground root mechanisms for delivering legal advice and counselling to the victims. They make the child aware of his rights under the circumstances so that the child may not be intimidated by the very system established to protect him/her and may testify in court without fear. Legal advice by the legal aid cell may also be extended to any relevant government authority in the case or any NGO, Civil societies rallying for the case, parents, relatives, friends and concerned public who aim to act on behalf of the child in need of care and protection so they may be able to assist the child. The legal aid by the cell may be in the form of any information regarding the child's rights, how to avail those rights, the concerned authorities to be approached, best legal options available to the child and any assistance required in filing complaints and petitions.

FINANCIAL AID

Apart from this, the Legal Services Authority may also be called upon to aid financially in regards to court fee, any process fee, cost of drafting and filing any legal action, cost of hiring a lawyer, overall cost of paperwork regarding the case and legal proceedings. Speedier trials and trained public prosecutors need of the hour. Last year, New Delhi's special POCSO courts are facing the problem of an inadequate number of experienced public prosecutors which the government has sought to remedy by hiring lawyers on contract to prevent delay in POCSO cases in trial courts. This decision came in response to the PIL filed by advocate Gaurav who was assigned the task of finding faults in the system by the High Court itself. In the same year, the Supreme Court had issued the directive to all High courts to constitute a committee for monitoring and supervising each and every POCSO case so as to ensure speedy delivery of justice to children.

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