TW: Child Sexual Abuse
The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act, 2019 is a special law that was first brought into effect in 2012 to deal with child sexual abuse cases. It is highly comprehensive in nature and aims to protect children from the offences of sexual assault, sexual harassment and pornography.
According to the Act, a ‘child’ is anyone below the age of 18 years. Under POCSO, the following activities, when committed against a child, amount to a criminal offence:
This includes cases where a person-
Sexual assault includes cases-
It includes cases where sexual assault (as specified above) is aggravated because it has been committed by a person in a position of trust or authority vis-à-vis the child, like a family member, police officer, teacher, doctor, member of the armed forces, public servant, hospital staff, etc., or when the abused child is mentally ill.
Sexual harassment on a child is committed when a person with sexual intent:
The Act defines child pornography as any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a child including photograph, video, digital or computer generated image indistinguishable from an actual child.
A person is guilty of using a child for pornographic purposes if
The Act penalises:
The POCSO Act prescribes stringent punishment graded as per the gravity of the offence, with a maximum term of rigorous imprisonment for life, and fine. The punishment for each of the aforementioned offences is as follows:
|Penetrative sexual assault||Imprisonment between 10 years to life, and a fine.
If committed on child below 16 years of age, then, imprisonment between 20 years to life, and a fine.
|Aggravated penetrative sexual assault||Imprisonment between 20 years to life, and a fine.|
|Sexual assault||Imprisonment for 3 to 5 years, and a fine.|
|Aggravated sexual assault||Imprisonment for 5 to 7 years, and a fine.|
|Sexual harassment||Imprisonment up to 3 years, and a fine.|
|Using child for pornographic purposes||Imprisonment up to 5 years, and a fine.|
|Storage of child pornographic material||Imprisonment up to 3 years, with or without fine.|
POCSO also makes the reporting of child sexual offences mandatory. This means that the person who has knowledge that a child has been sexually abused, also has the legal duty to report the offence. In case of a failure to report, that person may face imprisonment for 6 months and/or a fine.
This emphasis on reporting is born out of the understanding that if suspected victims of CSA are identified in time, then they can be prevented from falling prey to further harm. In contrast, if such cases are not detected and reported, then the child may carry the scars of the abuse throughout their lives, and in some cases, even end up repeating the pattern of abuse with someone else.
The Act attempts to avoid re-victimization and ensure that the child’s best interests are safeguarded throughout the judicial process. This is achieved through various provisions like, incorporating child-friendly mechanisms for reporting, recording of evidence, and investigation; speedy trial of offences, trial in-camera and without revealing the identity of the child through designated Special Courts.
Moreover, the Preamble to the POCSO Act mentions certain principles which have to be adhered to by all involved parties, including the courts, police, Child Welfare Committee (CWC), Special Courts, NGOs, and all government bodies. Some of them are:
Though the POCSO Act is considered an excellent piece of legislation, one which recognizes almost every known form of sexual abuse against children as punishable offence, it has come under the scanner for various reasons. Some points of criticism are:
The POCSO Act is a landmark law which, if enacted properly, has the potential to deter perpetrators and bring down the occurrence of child sexual offences, while also ensuring that the survivors receive proper care and justice. It is the duty of all stakeholders, including government bodies, police, medical professionals, courts, and welfare committees to adopt a joint multi-disciplinary approach in order to protect childhood and innocence.
If you are a survivor, parent or guardian who wants to seek help for child sexual abuse, or know someone who might, you can dial 1098 for CHILDLINE (a 24-hour national helpline) or email them at email@example.com. You can also call NGO Arpan on their helpline 091-98190-86444, for counselling support.