News Excerpt
Child Witness has been in the spotlight due to recent police questioning in Karnataka in relation to sedition charges.

•    The Karnataka State Commission for Protection of Child Rights has pulled up the district police for violations, including repeated questioning of the children.
•    Additionally, a public interest petition has been filed in the Karnataka High Court seeking a departmental inquiry against those policemen.
•    The PIL has asked for guidelines to be issued to police regarding interrogation of minors in criminal proceedings in accordance with the Juvenile Justice Act and United Nations resolutions.

International conventions on children
Convention on the Rights of the Child:
    Adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1989
    India has been a signatory since 1992
    In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration

United Nations: Justice in Matters involving Child Victims and Witnesses in Crime
    ‘Model Law’ provided a more specific set of guidelines in the context of child witnesses
    These guidelines recommend that authorities treat children in a caring and sensitive manner, with interview techniques that “minimise distress or trauma to children
    They recommend specifically that an investigator specially trained in dealing with children be appointed to guide the interview of the child, using a child-sensitive approach to avoid repetition of the interview during the justice process in order to prevent secondary victimisation of the child.

Indian Laws
    Under Section 118 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, there is no minimum age for a witness. Children as young as three years old have deposed before trial courts in cases of sexual abuse.
    Usually during a trial, the court, before recording the testimony of a child witness, determines his or her competency on the basis of their ability to give rational answers.
    A child is usually asked questions like their name, the school they study in, and the names of their parents to determine their competency.  
    If the child is very young and does not understand the significance of taking an oath to speak the truth — which is administered to each witness before testimony — the judge or the staff explain to the child that he or she should speak the truth, thinking of whichever God they believe in.
    Trials involving children as witnesses have primarily been in cases of child sexual abuse.
    Other criminal cases where children are examined as witnesses have included those where a parent is the victim of violence at home, in the sole presence of the child.

Court Judgements
    The Delhi High Court has come up with guidelines for recording of evidence of vulnerable witnesses in criminal matters. A vulnerable witness is defined as anyone who has not completed 18 years of age.
    Focusing primarily on child witnesses giving testimonies that are recorded in court, the court guidelines underline the importance of the criminal justice system needing to respond proactively, sensitively, and in an age-appropriate manner when dealing with children.
    The lengthy process of navigating the formal and adversarial criminal justice system can affect the vulnerable witnesses’ psychological development. Hence, they allow for a facilitator for a vulnerable witness to be appointed by a court for effective communication between various stakeholders including the police.

While children can be pliable, their testimony can be considered after careful scrutiny. Hence, a streamlined system should be there to treat child witness so that their secondary victimisation can be avoided.

Secondary victimisation
is defined as victimisation that occurs not as a direct result of a criminal act, but through the response of institutions and individuals to the victim.

Juvenile Justice Act, POCSO Act