The World Health Organisation has defined child sexual abuse as the involvement of a child in sexual activity as he or she does not fully comprehend, is unable to give informed consent to, or for which the child is not developmentally prepared and cannot give consent, or that violates the laws or social taboos of society. It includes different sexual activities like fondling, inviting a child to touch or be touched sexually, intercourse, exhibitionism, involving a child in prostitution or pornography, or online child luring by cyber-predators.
The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012
In a landmark moment in India's history, The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 was passed by the Lok Sabha on 22nd May 2012.
The Bill was first presented in the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha and then referred to a Parliamentary Standing Committee. The Standing Committee had submitted their report on the 21st of December, 2011. The Rajya Sabha gave its nod in May this year.
The Bill which remained pending for a long time is a necessity in a country where 40 percent of the population is below the age of 18. Also, in the absence of stringent laws against Child Sexual Abuse (CSA), over 53 per cent of children surveyed in 2007 stated that they had experienced one or more forms of sexual abuse.
The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 has been drafted to specifically address the issue of sexual offences committed against children, which until now had been tried under laws that did not differentiate between adult and child victims.
The punishments provided in the law are also stringent and are commensurate with the gravity of the offence. The offence is considered 'aggravated' if committed by a person in a position of authority such as a public servant or member of the security forces.
The law defines a child as anyone below the age of 18 years and does not differentiate between a boy or girl child victim. The law has also taken a big step forward in including not only penetrative assault under the ambit of sexual abuse but also expanded the definition to include visual, verbal and physical sexual abuse as well.
Punishment for Offences covered in the Act are:
- Penetrative Sexual Assault (Section3)- Not less than seven years which may extend to imprisonment for life, and fine (Section 4)
- Aggravated Penetrative Sexual Assault (Section 5)- Not less than ten years which may lead to imprisonment for life, and fine (Section 6)
- Sexual Assault (Section 7)- Not less than three years which may extend to five years, and fine (Section 8)
- Aggravated Sexual Assault (Section 9)- Not less than five years which may extend to seven years, and fine (Section 10)
- Sexual Harassment of the Child (Section 11)- Three years and fine (Section 12)
- Use of Child for Pornographic Purposes (Section 13)- Five years and fine and in the event of subsequent conviction, seven years and fine (Section 14 (1) )
Various child friendly procedures are put in place at various stages of the judicial process for reporting of the crime, recording of evidence, investigation and trial of offences in this Act. The possibility of establishment of Special Courts for the trial of offences under the law has also been provided for. Also, the Special Court is to complete the trial within a period of one year, as far as possible. Disclosing the name of the child in the media is a punishable offence, punishable by up to one year.
The law provides for relief and rehabilitation of the child, as soon as the complaint is made to the Special Juvenile Police Unit (SJPU) or to the local police. These agencies are required to make immediate arrangements to give the child adequate care and protection such as admitting the child into a shelter home or to the nearest hospital within twenty-four hours of the report. The Child Welfare Committee (CWC) is also required to be notified within 24 hours of recording the complaint.
Child friendly procedures incorporated in the Act:
- Recording the statement of the child at the residence of the child or at the place of his choice, preferably by a women police officer not below the rank of the sub-inspector. Evidence has to be recorded within 30 days
- No child to be detained in the police station at night for any reason
- Police officer to not be in uniform while recording the statement of the child
- The statement of the child to be recorded as spoken by the child
- The assistance of an interpreter or translator or an expert as per the need of the child
- The assistance of a special educator or any person familiar with the manner of communication of the child in case a child is disabled
- Medical examination of the child to be conducted in the presence of the parent of the child or any other person in whom the child has trust or confidence
- In case the victim is a girl child, the medical examination shall be conducted by a woman doctor
- Frequent breaks for the child during the trial
- A child not to be called repeatedly to testify
- No aggressive questioning or character assassination of the child
An important step forward is also the recognition of the intent of committing an offence, which has also been provided for with the possibility of punishment of up to half the punishment that has been provided for the actual committing of the crime. Abetment of the offence is also considered punishable for their role in aiding the sexual abuse of a child.
The burden of proof lies on the accused in any case of Child Sexual Abuse.
However, for preventing the misuse of the law, there is also a punishment provided for making a false complaint or providing false evidence. It remains to be seen how this provision is utilised in the future.
A duty on the Central and State Governments is to spread awareness through media including television, radio and print media at regular intervals to make the general public, children as well as their parents and guardians aware of the provisions of this Act.
It is a mandate of the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) and State Commissions for the Protection of Child Rights (SCPCR) to monitor the implementation of the Act.