Tears and silence are one of the several things that occupy a greater portion of the memories of many children who are sexually abused. Child sexual abuse is a barbaric act which is spreading everywhere in the community like an epidemic. It doesn’t stop to differentiate between higher or lower class. Physical injuries have the potential to heal over time, but psychological and medical consequence leave permanent and indelible scars on individual life. If one considers the circumstances in India, a country where sexuality is a huge taboo, coming forward to battle against sexual abuse of children seems right next to impossible. Laws have been created by the legislature for the protection of children, namely, The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO), 2012 and the Juvenile Justice Act.
POCSO is impartial, which suggests that the crimes of this gravity committed against children are handled by this act regardless of the gender of the child. This Act sets a heavy burden of proof of “guilty until proven innocent” instead of the general rule of “innocent until proven guilty.” To forestall the misuse of the law, the law also has a number of punishments for false complaints and false information. The recording of abuse is obligatory under this Act. Registration of a First Information Report (FIR) in all cases of child abuse is to be mandatorily done by the police. The statement of the victim can be recorded either where the child resides or at a place chosen by them. It is preferable if it is done by a female police officer who possesses a rank which isn’t underneath a sub-inspector. This act mentions all plausible sexual offences against children. It additionally recommends punishments for attempted crimes under this act as well as aiding-and-abetting of these crimes or failure in reporting these crimes. If there is even a tiny hint of suspicion regarding the reporting of an offence, the Act highly advises reporting it because dereliction to report alone could result in up to 6 months of imprisonment along with payment of a fine.
The Act has also altered consensual sex under the Indian Penal Code. The age of consent was 16 years earlier and now it has been raised to 18 years of age. It means that any person, even a child is liable to be prosecuted if found engaged in a sexual act with a child irrespective of the consent of the child. Additionally, A husband/wife can be prosecuted for engagement of a sexual act with their partner who is under 18 years of age. The POCSO Act, 2012 does not recognize consensual sexual acts among children or between a child and an adult.
It is paramount for one to understand that under the POCSO Act, 2012, the burden of proof lies with the prosecution and that this act also furnishes different types of severe punishments for the people that commit offences under this act. The act not only envisages guidelines for the safeguarding of children and punishment for the perpetrator but also for the reporting of the crime to the concerned authority and adjudication by the special courts.
Recent Developments in the Act.
Section 9(m) of the POCSO Act,2012 states that whoever commits the crime of sexual assault with a child who is aged below twelve years of age, is said to have committed the crime of aggravated sexual assault. In a recent case, Raju Prasad vs. State of Sikkim, the High Court of Sikkim upheld that an act of forcibly kissing a girl child of eleven years of age and hugging her amounts to aggravated sexual assault as mentioned under section 9(m) of the POCSO Act, 2012. The accused was awarded a sentence of five years of imprisonment by the Special Court.
In another case which took place recently, Shri Akhil Shil Vs. State of West Bengal, the Calcutta High Court convicted and sentenced the accused person under Section 6 of the POCSO Act, 2012. The accused had sexually assaulted a minor girl aged 3 years. There were several contradictions regarding the statement of the minor and the witnesses. It was upheld by the court that it is not possible at all for a child of such a tender age to come and depose in the Court regarding such a heinous crime. Also, a criminal like that should not be released simply on the grounds of slight contradictions. The Court also elucidated upon the term aggravated penetrative sexual assault in detail and sentenced the accused with imprisonment for ten years and a fine of Rs. 10,000. The minor victim was also compensated with Rs.5 lakhs by the State to ensure that she procures proper education and undergoes rehabilitation therapy. The Court reiterated that is necessary to create awareness regarding the survival assault scheme.
On 10th July 2019, the Union Cabinet approved a number of amendments to be made in the POCSO Act,2012. This was done in order tomake the provisions even more stringent concerning the crime of child abuse. Amendments were also proposed in Section 9 to safeguard children from sexual offences during the situations of natural calamities and in other situations where children are administered, in any way, any hormone or any chemical substance, to attain early sexual maturity for penetrative sexual assault. The key part of this approval was to provide for the death penalty to a child rapist, for committing aggravated penetrative assault and sexual assault against a child. Various sections have been proposed to be amended, namely, sec. 2,4,5,6,9,14 and 15.
Child abuse is one of the most heinous and inhuman crimes that could possibly be imagined and committed against humanity. Not only does it disrupt the child who has been sexually assaulted but also hinders the quality of the community when we look at the bigger picture, as the children who have felt such traumatic things in the early stage of their lives, grow up to become part of the society. It is imperative to control child sex abuse to sustain a healthy population and prosperous growth of the county at large.