Children are one of the most vulnerable sections of society. They are gullible and often fall under a bad influence or be a victim to sexual assault. According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report, there was an increase in crime against children in 2019. To protect their rights the government has taken many steps. Protection of children from sexual offences (POCSO) act is one such legislation introduced by the ministry of women and child development.
Despite having a comprehensive law there have been several issues with the interpretation. In January this year, a controversial ruling by Nagpur bench of the Bombay High court attracted widespread criticism. The bench held that skin-to-skin contact is essential to constitute the offence defined under Section 7 of the act. The court stated that punishment should be proportionate to the seriousness of the crime. This was perhaps the result of the amendment of the act in 2019 which increased the maximum punishment up to death penalty. Hence the court was of the opinion that a stricter proof was required to give death penalty to the criminal/accused. To understand the nuances of the act one has to know the basic provisions of the act.
Salient features of the act and the amendment
- The act defines a child as any person below 18 years of age. It ensures physical, emotional, intellectual and social well being of a child. The act defines different forms of sexual abuse, sexual harassment and child pornography. The act is gender-neutral.
- The amendment act in 2019 was aimed at deterring people from committing such heinous acts. Therefore It increased the maximum punishment to death penalty. Earlier the maximum punishment was life imprisonment.
- The act enlists the provisions related to the conduct of trials of reported offences. Special courts for trials of offences were established under the act keeping the best interest of the child at paramount importance in every stage of the judicial process. Child-friendly procedures for reporting, recording of evidence, investigation and trial of offences were incorporated.
- In 2020 POCSO rules were notified. The onus of awareness generation and capacity building was given to the central government and the state governments. They are responsible for preparing age-appropriate educational material and curriculum for children informing them about various aspects of personal safety. The rules details the procedure regarding care and protection of a child.
- Monitoring of implementation of the act is under National Commission for the protection of child rights or state Commission for the protection of child rights, as the case may be.
Impact of the act
In the past few years, there have been abominable criminal incidents against children such as the infamous Muzaffarpur incident. Such occurrences substantiate the need for death penalty. Although experts believe that death penalty can be a deterring factor but it might lead to the murder of the victim by the assaulter in an attempt to cover the crime. Hence making an act stringent might be less effective. The real deal is working on its implementation. A strict law is meaningless if it fails to control the crime. Implementation is the key to success. This intern can be done by sensitising the law enforcing agencies against such criminal activities.