Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act

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Context: The Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court has ruled that Special Courts designated under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act alone are empowered to entertain anticipatory bail petitions in respect of offences under the Act. The Sessions Court cannot entertain such applications, the court said.

  • Additional Task (Revise Benches of all High Courts in India: Prelims Perspective)

Analysis

  • This Act has been enacted to protect children from offences of sexual assault, sexual harassment and pornography and provide for establishment of Special Courts for trial of such offences and related matters and incidents.
  • The Act was recently amended in 2019, to make provisions for enhancement of punishments for various offences so as to deter the perpetrators and ensure safety, security and dignified childhood for a child.
  • The Act is gender neutral and regards the best interests and welfare of the child as a matter of paramount importance.

Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012

  • The Act deals with sexual offences against persons below 18 years of age, who are deemed as children.
  • The Act for the first time, defines “penetrative sexual assault”, “sexual assault” and “sexual harassment”.
  • Speedy trial of offences through appointment of Special Public Prosecutors and designated Special Courts.
  • The Act provides for stringent punishments which have been graded as per the gravity of offence. 
  • The Act deems a sexual assault to be “aggravated” under certain circumstances, such as when the abused child is mentally ill or when the abuse is committed by a person in a position of trust or authority vis-a-vis the child, like a family member, police officer, teacher, or doctor. 
  • The Act provides for a dedicated ‘Online Complaint System (e?baalnidaan)’ to ensure timely/speedy redressal of complaints of various violations and deprivation of child rights.
  • The Act also provides for mandatory reporting of sexual offences.
  • The police are also required to bring the matter to the attention of the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) within 24 hours of receiving the report.
  • It provides for special courts that conduct the trial in-camera and without revealing the identity of the child.
  • The Act stipulates that a case of child sexual abuse must be disposed of within one year from the date the offence is reported.
  • The Act provides for the Special Court to determine the amount of compensation to be paid to a child who has been sexually abused, so that this money can then be used for the child’s medical treatment and rehabilitation.

Recent Amendments

  • The amended Act provides the death penalty for aggravated sexual assault on children and greater punishments for other crimes against minors.
  • The Act justifies this by referring to the judgments of the Supreme Court in Machhi Singh (1983) and Devender Pal Singh (2002) in which the court has held that the death penalty can be awarded only in rarest of rare cases.
  • It makes offences against children gender-neutral.
  • The Act defines child pornography, making it punishable.
  • Under the witness protection scheme, all measures such as doing threat assessment of the victim and witness and if required even changing their identity and others were taken to ensure their safety.
  • If the juvenile is involved in a sexual offence against the children, that case will come under Juvenile Justice Act and the death penalty could be given only if he is above 16 years of age and the juvenile justice board finds that he has an adult mind.
  • The Act specifically defines what ‘child pornography’ is; ‘using a child for pornographic purposes’ and for ‘possessing or storing pornography involving a child’ is punishable. It has also widened the ambit of ‘Aggravated sexual assault’.

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