|Introduction: Give a brief description of the POCSO Act.|
Body: What can be the potential impact of changing the age of consent on adolescents?
Conclusion: Way forward.
Recently, there has been increasing clamour among the judiciary and civil society to reduce the age of consent in the Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, enacted in 2012 to check crimes against children. Under the POCSO Act, any sexual activity with a girl under 18 years of age constitutes rape with or without the girl’s consent. Consensual sexual activity among adolescents being criminalized under the law is cited as a major reason for the suggested changes.
What can be the potential impact of changing the age of consent on adolescents and the legal system in India?
- Protection from Criminalization: Lowering the age of consent might prevent consensual relationships between adolescents from being criminalized, reducing the chances of young people facing legal consequences for engaging in relationships with peers close to their age.
- Child marriage: The age at which a person can lawfully be married and the age of consent are frequently related. Laws and customs governing child marriage may need to be modified if the age of consent is reduced.
- Prevent abuse of Law: Courts in many cases have found that the POCSO act has been used by girls’ parents to blackmail the family of the accused, resulting in injustice to boys. The reduction in age will address this issue and provide relief to the other side.
- Definition of “consent”: Minor girls in India are involved in commercial sex as young as 10 to 13 years old and they depend on the sex trade for their livelihood. Upon lowering the age of consent it will be difficult to try these cases in court and prove that money exchanged was not “consent”.
- Social and Cultural Considerations: Lowering the age of consent might require considering the cultural norms, societal attitudes, and local practices prevalent in India. It will require considerable time and efforts of courts to consider factors like the age gap between the accused and the victim, power dynamics, and caste equations — on a case-by-case basis to assess/establish consent.
- Privacy: Various studies have established that 18 to 25 percent of cases registered under the POCSO Act, were either found to be in consensual relationships or these were “romantic cases”. This also raises concern as sometimes it violates the privacy of couples. So there is a need to review the act.
The POCSO Act is not in sync with the social reality of adolescent interactions, as evidenced by the high incidence of acquittals. The High Courts have also recognized how criminal law might be disruptive in certain situations. The couples’ marriage may have had an impact on several High Courts and led to the dismissal of romantic cases brought under the POCSO Act, but sexual behaviour is common during youth, and not all relationships result in marriage. The possibility for development, liberty, privacy, and developing autonomy of older teenagers who engage in such consenting sexual actions are all undermined by the blanket criminalization of such behaviour. Additionally, it affects the administration of justice since these lawsuits place a heavy strain on our courts and take resources away from examining and prosecuting true child abuse cases. Hence it is the right time to take a review of the Act.