The need of explicit details of the offences against the children in POCSO Act

Source- The Hindu

Syllabus – GS 2 –  Indian Constitution—historical underpinnings, evolution, features, amendments, significant provisions and basic structure.

Synopsis: The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act was enacted especially to protect children from sexual assault.

Background

  • In the case of Satish Ragde v. State of Maharashtra, Bombay High Court acquitted the accused under the POCSO Act.
  • The Court stated its ground that the accused groped the victim over her clothes and there was no skin to skin contact i.e. physical contact with the victim.
  • The Supreme Court ordered a stay on the acquittal of the accused.

Why the legislature enacted the POCSO Act?

  • First, to protect children below 18 years of age from any kind of sexual abuses.
  • Second, before the enactment of this Act, there was no other Act which provides specifically for the sexual offences against children.
  • Third, India has signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1992. The Convention requires sexual exploitation and sexual abuse to be addressed as heinous crimes.
  • Fourth, to provide for strict punishments to create a deterrence effect against the sexual offences against the children.

Thus, the need for an explicit Act was felt for the offences against children.

Why the POCSO act is comprehensive than IPC?

  • First, in IPC the definition of assault is generic i.e. ‘assault or criminal force to a woman with intent to outrage her modesty’. However, in POCSO the acts of sexual assault are explicitly mentioned.
  • Second, Age- IPC provides punishment for the offence against a victim, irrespective of age. However, POCSO is specifically for the protection of the children.
  • Third, POCSO provides for higher punishment as compare to IPC as the victims are children.

The findings of the Courts in the cases of sexual assault-

  1. The Supreme Court held in Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan (1997) that the offences relating to the modesty of woman cannot be treated as trivial.
  2. The High Court of Chhasttisgarh in Pappu v. State of Chhattisgarh (2015) held the conviction of accused of sexual harassment under Section 354A which requires ‘physical contact’ and advances as a necessary element. It didn’t go into the debate of skin-to-skin contact.

Way Forward

  • The U.K. Sexual Offences Act 2003 mentions clearly that touching with sexual intent includes touching any part of the body, with anything else or though anything.
  • POCSO act must also be modified to remove such ambiguities.
  • However, for the time being, any interpretation which weakens the protection of the children need to be declared ultra vires.  As it can set a dangerous precedent in society.
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