Child sexual abuse is a worldwide phenomenon, and India is not an exception. The magnitude of this grave crime is underrated because of under-reporting. The reality is that the incidence of child sexual abuse has reached epidemic proportions in India. In 2021 only there were 53,874 cases registered under Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act of 2012. To enable the all-around protection of children, the Indian government administered the “Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO)” Act of 2012. The act is a comprehensive piece of legislation designed to protect children from crimes including sexual assault, sexual harassment, and pornography.
The Bombay High Court in India has urged the country to consider reducing the age of consent for sex, highlighting that many other countries have set their age of consent between 14 and 16 years. The court argued that the current age of 18 is one of the highest globally and that punishing minors for consensual relationships would not be in their best interest. The court made the comments while hearing an appeal by a man who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for maintaining a consensual relationship with a minor girl. Justice Dangre highlighted the fact that over time, the age of consent has gone up through various statutes in India and was maintained at 16 years from 1940 till 2012, when the POCSO Act raised it to 18 years.
In countries such as England, Wales, and even in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, the age of consent is 16 years. Japan has set the age of consent at 13 years. In comparison, as far as India is concerned, the age of marriage for male and female is fixed at 21 and 18 years (respectively) as per the Child Marriage Prohibition Act, 2006. Justice Dangre also emphasised that the definition of the term ‘child’ varies from statute to statute and as per the POCSO Act, a person below 18 years of age is considered a child and it criminalises all sexual activities with them, even if the act was committed with consent.
The tailor was around 25 years old and the girl around 17-and-a-half years of age when they eloped. The two later got married and the girl reiterated before the trial court that their relationship was consensual. However, the POCSO court convicted the tailor and sentenced him as the girl was technically a minor. Justice Dangre said a case of physical attraction or infatuation always comes forth when a teenager enters a sexual relationship, and it is necessary that our country looks and observes all that is happening around the world.
Justice Bharati Dangre believes that the POCSO Act, has indeed served as an effective piece of legislation, and with the child-friendly system of online complaint registration, has become more effective off late. But, issues like mental and psychological disabilities and strict adherence to the biological age limits have proved to be roadblocks, in the path of its better implementation. The POCSO Act cannot stop natural feelings towards the opposite sex, particularly among adolescents on account of the biological and psychological changes they go through. Therefore, punishing a minor boy for entering a relationship with a minor girl would be against the best interest of the child.
Child sexual abuse is a multidimensional problem having legal, social, medical, and psychological implications. But most of the cases are with consent. False Complaints under POCSO are very common. Even a cursory reading of the new law on rape brings to light the exceptionally inclusive approach to provide justice in rape cases. However, it also raises the question that if such a law, that
Imposes the aforesaid heavy punishment, is misused then what are going to be the consequences for the falsely accused person. It is essential to protect children from sexual offenses. But at the same time, accusations can ruin someone’s life. The legal system must ensure that justice is served in all cases, without bias or prejudice. POCSO Act has become an easy weapon to torture innocents and to take revenge or getting Extortion money. Government should take necessary steps to amend the POCSO Act and to safeguard innocents from misuse of the POCSO Act. Most talked about case is of Asaram Bapu. Bapu has been put behind bars because of POCSO misuse. It is a non bailable act. Also in this act the state is not responsible to prove the crime. If the criminal thinks that he is innocent then he has to prove it. These days many laws be it section 498A, rape laws and POSCO are used as weapon against man, most of these cases are fake and with the motive. Innocent suffers and women play the victim card. As much as girl children and women need protection, even men need some provision to stay safe.