India's top court dedicates one afternoon per week to social issues

NEW DELHI (AFP) - Two Supreme Court judges will dedicate an afternoon a week to hearing cases of social injustice, India's chief justice said Thursday, drawing praise from Nobel peace laureate Kailash Satyarthi.

The two judges will sit every Friday afternoon to hear petitions on issues often neglected by India's courts, including child trafficking and women's safety, Justice H.L. Dattu said.

"This is a first step and let us start. People of this country should feel we are with them and this court gives time to them," Dattu told the NDTV news network.

He said he had been moved by a petition from Satyarthi asking the court to address the huge numbers of children trafficked in India every year.

"A case on missing children hurt me the most. I felt the need for a bench to hear such cases," Dattu said. "I have a daughter and son. If my children go missing, what will I feel? I am trying to do my best."

Satyarthi, an Indian child rights activist who shared this year's Nobel peace prize with Pakistan's Malala Yousafzai, welcomed the move.

"My deepest gratitude to Chief Justice of India for establishing a special bench for protecting women and children," he tweeted.

Fellow activists said they hoped the initiative would put pressure on the government to act swiftly in cases where social justice had been denied.

"Over the years it's been felt that high-profile cases of the rich and famous get too much focus, but cases of social justice continue to languish for years," said Ravi Kant, president of the non-profit Shakti Vahini group.

"The new bench will bring a lot of clarity as well as urgency in matters that affect women and children the most," he told AFP.