Child Sexual Abuse is widespread across India, not restricted by any socioeconomic class, gender or religion . According to the child abuse report, women and child development India, 2007- Half of the country’s children face some form of sexual abuse, with 21% having faced severe sexual abuse. Boys accounting for around 53% and girls for 47% of all children reporting abuse. Sadly despite its high prevalence, it’s a crime that’s underreported and unacknowledged. Sexuality being a taboo in our country, awareness and communication are kept to a minimum. Sexual abuse has been proven to affect the physical, psychological , social levels and behavioural patterns of the child.
In order to effectively address the heinous crimes of sexual abuse and exploitation, the Ministry of Women and Child Development enacted the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences, POCSO Act in 2012. The act aims at protecting children from pornography, sexual harassment and sexual assault. Special courts are established to provide justice and trial for such cases. The act defines a ‘child’ as being a person below 18 years of age and regards the wellbeing of the child as of utmost importance. The act also defines different types of sexual abuse including, penetrative / non penetrative assault, sexual harassment, pornography etc. it also prescribes stringent punishment for the offences along with trafficking with imprisonment for life and a fine.
Following a public outrage over the gang-rape and murder of a minor girl in Kathua ( Jammu and Kashmir), the center approved an ordinance to amend the POCSO act, 2012 making provision for death penalty in child rape cases. Eight people were charged with abduction, rape and murder of the eight-year-old girl from the Bakerwal community in Rasana village. The eight year old was repeatedly drugged and raped in a temple where she was held captive. She was murdered to drive the Muslim community out of the village to which she belonged. Due to this and the sudden surge in the rates of child sexual abuse the union cabinet agreed to enact The POCSO Amendment Bill, introduced by Minister of State in Ministry of Women and Child Development, Virendra Kumar.
“The said Act is gender neutral and regards the best interests and welfare of the child as matter of paramount importance at every stage so as to ensure the healthy physical, emotional, intellectual and social development of the child,” said the statement of Objects and Reasons of the Bill.
According to Prakash Javadekar, minister for information and broadcasting -“The modification is made to address the need for stringent measures required to deter the rising trend of child sex abuse in the country on one hand and to address the menace of relatively new kind of crimes on the other hand”
Amendments in POCSO Act include death penalty for aggravated sexual assault on children, fines and imprisonment to curb child pornography and various other stringent punishments for crimes against minors.According to an official statement made by the government,”Section-4, 5 and 6 are proposed to be amended to provide option of stringent punishment, including death penalty, for committing sexual assault and aggravated penetrative sexual assault crime on a child to protect the children from sexual abuse,”
The officials also talked about amending section 14 and 15 of the POCSO Act to address the menace of child pornography and proposed a fine of not less than Rs 1,000 for not destroying/deleting/reporting the pornographic material involving a child. The bill also increased the punishment of the offender with a 3-5year jail term or fine or both for transmitting, propagating, administrating such material.
Amendments proposed in Section 9 aims to protect children from sexual offences in times of (i)natural calamities and (ii)in other situations where children are administered, in any way, any hormone or any chemical substance, to attain early sexual maturity for the purpose of penetrative sexual assault.
According to prsindia.org-
- Penetrative sexual assault: The Bill increases the minimum punishment from seven years to ten years. It further adds that if a person commits penetrative sexual assault on a child below the age of 16 years, he will be punishable with imprisonment between 20 years to life, along with a fine. In Raju Prasad vs. State of Sikkim, the High Court of Sikkim, held that an act of forcibly kissing a girl child of eleven years of age and hugging her can amount to “aggravated sexual assault” as mentioned u/s 9(m) of the POCSO Act,2012. The Special court awarded a sentence of five years of imprisonment to the accused.
- Aggravated penetrative sexual assault: Currently, the punishment for aggravated penetrative sexual assault is imprisonment between 10 years to life, and a fine. The Bill increases the minimum punishment from ten years to 20 years, and the maximum punishment to death penalty.
- Aggravated sexual assault: The Bill adds two more offences to the definition of aggravated sexual assault. These include: (i) assault committed during a natural calamity, and (ii) administrating any hormone or any chemical substance, to a child for the purpose of attaining early sexual maturity. In Shri Akhil Shil Vs. The State, the Calcutta High Court sentenced the accused, for sexually assaulting a girl of three years of age, (under section 6 of the POSCO act 2012) despite there being contradictions in the statement of the minor and the witnesses. The court held that the child being of such tender age wouldn’t be able to come and depose in the Court of such a heinous crime and the accused should not be acquitted on the grounds of slight contradictions. The Court awarded a sentence of rigorous imprisonment for ten years and a fine of Rs. 10,000. The court also directed the state to pay a compensation of Rs. 5 lacs to the minor victim to ensure her proper education and rehabilitation.
- Pornographic purposes: any person using a child in any form of media for the purpose of sexual gratification will be held liable under the act. The Act also penalises people who use children for pornographic purposes resulting in sexual assault. The Bill enhances the punishments for these offences. According to the bill “In the recent past incidences of child sexual abuse cases demonstrating the inhumane mind-set of the abusers who have been barbaric in their approach towards young victims is rising in the country. Children are becoming easy prey because of their tender age, physical vulnerabilities and inexperience of life and society.
This heinous crime not only violates the dignity and rights of children but also robs them of the joys of childhood, making it imperative to control child sex abuse to sustain a healthy and prosperous growth of the country. These amendments enhance and increase punishments for the offences in order to deter perpetrators and ensure a secure and dignified childhood.
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