The Gauhati High Court has put on hold a controversial order by a sessions court in Arunachal Pradesh that ordered a childcare home to hand over custody of a minor rape survivor to a relative of the rape victim.
In a letter to the Arunachal Pradesh Chief Secretary, the Director-General of Police, and other officials concerned on June 30, the Additional Advocate General of the State said the High Court’s Chief Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia had taken suo motu cognizance of the case related to the custody of the minor girl.
The case relates to a girl from Nepal brought to Arunachal Pradesh many years ago. She was working as a domestic helper at the house of one Aka Kalung in Roing for a monthly salary of Rs. 1,500. The girl child, aged between 12-15 years of age, was alleged to have been sexually abused by Aka Kalung and refused to go back to his house. The girl was reported missing on March 2, 2021. The case took a turn when she told the police that she had been subjected to sexual abuse by Kalung, following which the District Child Welfare Committee put her at the Child Care Institute. A case under relevant sections of the POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses) Act was registered against Kalung March. He was absconding before the district police caught him and filed a chargesheet against him in April 2020.
The father of the child moved an application before the learned Sessions Judge, Tezu, Lohit District of Arunachal Pradesh for handing over the custody of the child to him and thereafter by an order dated 04.06.2021 directed the Child Care Institute (CCI) to hand over the child to the local guardian who happens to be the sister-in-law of the accused.
Chief Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia, on Wednesday (June 30, 2021), stepped in and after a virtual hearing issued orders to stay the June 4 directions of the sessions court in Tezu in Arunachal Pradesh’s Lohit district to place the rape survivor with the accused’s sister-in-law who was listed as her ‘local guardian’. He also pointed out that the proceedings before the special POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses) court in Tezu against the accused shall continue.
The Court observed that in its capacity as a parens partie it had to see the best interest of the child and since the local guardian to whom the custody is being handed over is a close relative of the accused, it would not serve the interest of justice and would be against the interest of the child.
“In view thereof, we stay the order of the learned Sessions Judge dated 04.06.2021 passed in IA 22(LDV)/2021 and the subsequent application i.e. IA 26(LDV)/2021 and the order passed therein and all such application where the subject matter relates to the custody of the child shall not be taken up. This will, however, subject to our further orders which will be passed in the present PIL. For the moment the child will stay under the management and custody of those who are in charge of CCI, Roing”, CJ Dhulia said.
The High Court further asked Lower Dibang Valley’s Superintendent of Police to provide protection to the victim at the Roing Child Care Institute and restrain the visiting rights of the accused, his relatives, and the girl’s father. An exception was granted for the girl’s mother.
The Director of Health Services in Arunachal Pradesh was directed to inquire to ascertain the age of the victim by way of a bone ossification test.
The matter was then listed to be heard on July 16, 2021.