New Delhi, September 29, 2023 (Satya Prakash): Turning down demands for reducing the age of consent from 18 years to 16 years under the POCSO Act, the Law Commission has recommended to the Centre that it should be retained at 18 years in view of problems of child abuse and child trafficking for prostitution.
After a careful review of existing child protection laws, various judgments and considering the maladies of child abuse, child trafficking and child prostitution that plague our society, the commission is of the measured view that it is not advisable to tinker with the existing age of consent under the POCSO Act,” said the commission, whose recommendations are not binding on the government. In its 283rd Report on “Age of Consent under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012” submitted to Minister of State for Law and Justice Arjun Ram Meghwal, the commission, however, suggested certain amendments to the POCSO Act “to remedy the situation in cases wherein there is tacit approval in fact, though not consent in law on part of the child aged between 16 to 18 years”.
The commission, which advises the government on legal issues, said: “This is so because in our considered opinion, such cases do not merit to be dealt with the same severity as the cases that were ideally imagined to fall under the POCSO Act.”
The commission said: “Comprehensive and age-appropriate sex education should be made a mandatory part of school curriculum and government programmes such as Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram should be utilised to inform and empower the adolescent population of India.”
The commission led by Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi favoured introducing “guided judicial discretion” in the matter of sentencing in such cases, saying: “This will ensure that the law is balanced, thus safeguarding the best interests of the child.”
Section 4 of POCSO Act prescribes a minimum sentence of 10 years for penetrative sexual assault and a minimum sentence of 20 years if the victim is below 16 years.
However, the commission recommended that courts should be given discretion to award a punishment which was less than the maximum punishment in case the accused and victim were in an intimate relationship; there was tacit approval on part of the victim (aged between 16 and 18 years); difference in age between the accused and child is not more than three years; the accused has no criminal antecedents and there is no change in the social or cultural background of the child, indicating an element of manipulation or indoctrination.
Suggests amendments to POCSO Act
1. Panel suggests amendments to POCSO Act to deal with cases where there is ‘tacit approval’ on part of child aged 16 to 18 years
2. Such cases do not merit to be dealt with same severity as other cases that are ideally imagined to fall under Act, it says
3. Aims it to provide ‘greater discretion’ to courts by allowing award of punishment less than maximum sentence
4. Sec 4 of Act prescribes a minimum 10-year jail for penetrative sexual assault and 20 years if victim is below 16 years.