Thursday, 18 July, 2019

Death included in child abuse law, sexual assault definition widened


  • To deal with rising cases of child abuse, the Union Cabinet has recently approved amendments to the gender-neutral Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012.
  • The POCSO (Amendment) Bill was earlier introduced in the 16th Lok Sabha but lapsed after its term got over.

Need of amendment

  • According to National Crime Records Bureau, less than three per cent of child rape cases that came up before the courts under the POCSO Act read with Indian Penal Code Section 376 ended in convictions.
  • This points out to the need for better access to justice for all, and more stringent conviction in such cases.

About POSCO Act, 2012

  • The POCSO Act, 2012 was enacted to Protect the Children from Offences of Sexual Assault, Sexual harassment and pornography with due regard for safeguarding the interest and well-being of children.
  • The Act defines a child as any person below eighteen years of age, and regards the best interests and welfare of the child as matter of paramount importance at every stage, to ensure the healthy physical, emotional, intellectual and social development of the child.
  • The act is gender neutral.

2019 Amendments:

  • The proposed amendments cover 21 kinds of sexual crimes that come under the definition of aggravated penetrative sexual assault against children.
  • Enhancement in the minimum punishment in such cases from the existing 10 years to 20 years and the maximum punishment to life imprisonment or death penalty.
  • Increase the minimum punishment from seven to ten years for ‘penetrative sexual assault’ of 16 to 17 year olds and if the child is below the age of 16 years, to a minimum of 20 years. The maximum term of life imprisonment in such cases has been retained.
    • Penetrative sexual assault on children in times of communal violence now also attracts the maximum penalty of death.
  • The definition of ‘sexual assault’ has now been expanded to include administration of hormones to children to make them appear more sexually mature for the sake of commercial sexual exploitation.
  • The POCSO amendments also include stringent punitive measures in cases of child pornography.
    • It also increases the penalty for storage of pornographic material for commercial purposes to an imprisonment between three to five years, or a fine, or both.
    • Failing to report or destroy such material or propagating it further will now be considered an offence.
  • The amendment has also added an additional category of sexual assault of children who are victims of calamities or natural disasters which now is liable for maximum term of life sentence or death penalty.

Aggravated penetrative sexual assault includes

  • Cases of child rape by police, armed forces, relatives, public servants or management of remand/protection homes, by those on the management or staff of healthcare, educational or religious institutions within their premises.
  • It includes continued rape or gang rape of a child or sexual assault using weapons.
  • It is also applicable in cases of rape where the child is harmed either physically, or in his/her sexual organs, impregnated or has to live with life-threatening infection as a result of the sexual assault, rape of children with mental or physical disabilities, and rape and attempt to murder.

Impact:

  • The amendment is expected to discourage the trend of child sexual abuse by acting as a deterrent due to strong penal provisions incorporated in the Act.
  • It may protect the interest of vulnerable children in times of distress and ensures their safety and dignity.
  • It will establish clarity regarding the aspects of child abuse and punishment thereof.

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