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RSTV – THE BIG PICTURE ANALYSIS
POCSO and New Rules
The Topic covers GS paper 1[Social empowerment.]
The Union government has notified the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Rules, 2020 which enables implementation of recent amendments to the Act under which provisions of punishment for child abuse has been made more stringent.
Some of the significant additions in the new rules include provision of mandatory police verification of staff in schools and care homes, procedures to report sexual abuse material (pornography), imparting age-appropriate child rights education among others.
What is the background?
For crackdown on child pornography, the rules state that “any person who has received any pornographic material involving a child or any information regarding such pornographic material being stored, possessed, distributed, circulated, transmitted, facilitated, propagated or displayed, or is likely to be distributed, facilitated or transmitted in any manner shall report the contents to the special juvenile police unit (SJPU) or police, or the cybercrime portal.
What are the key amendments?
Penetrative Sexual Assault:
The Bill increases the minimum punishment from seven years to ten years.
It further adds that if a person commits penetrative sexual assault on a child below the age of 16 years, he will be punishable with imprisonment between 20 years to life, with a fine.
Aggravated Penetrative Sexual Assault:
The Act defines certain actions as “aggravated penetrative sexual assault”.
The Bill adds two more grounds to the definition of aggravated penetrative sexual assault.
These include: (i) assault resulting in death of child, and (ii) assault committed during a natural calamity, or in any similar situations of violence. Currently, the punishment for aggravated penetrative sexual assault is imprisonment between 10 years to life, and a fine.
The Bill increases the minimum punishment from ten years to 20 years, and the maximum punishment to death penalty.
Aggravated Sexual Assault:
“Aggravated sexual assault” includes cases where the offender is a relative of the child, or if the assault injures the sexual organs of the child, among others.
The Bill adds two more offences to the definition of aggravated sexual assault.
These include: (i) assault committed during a natural calamity, and (ii) administrating or help in administering any hormone or any chemical substance, to a child for the purpose of attaining early sexual maturity.
Under the Act, a person is guilty of using a child for pornographic purposes if he uses a child in any form of media for the purpose of sexual gratification.
The Act also penalises persons who use children for pornographic purposes resulting in sexual assault.
The Bill defines child pornography as any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a child including photograph, video, digital or computer generated image indistinguishable from an actual child.
Storage of Pornographic Material:
The Act penalises storage of pornographic material for commercial purposes with a punishment of up to three years, or a fine, or both.
In addition, the Bill adds two other offences for storage of pornographic material involving children.
These include: (i) failing to destroy, or delete, or report pornographic material involving a child, and (ii) transmitting, displaying, distributing such material except for the purpose of reporting it.
What is the impact of child sexual abuse?
Physical impact can include pregnancy, tears to vaginal or anal area, sexually transmitted diseases, repeated urinary infection and psychosomatic illness.
Psychological impact can include unusual or unexplained fear of people or places, nightmares, eating and sleeping disturbances, anxiety, hyper-vigilance, clinging behavior, indifference, frequent daydreaming, dissociation, lack of trust in self and others, regressive behaviors such as thumb sucking, soiling and bedwetting.
The most profound impact can include suicide.
Social impact can include sudden withdrawal, overly pleasing behavior, increased hostility, aggression and drastic change in academic performance.
Sexual abuse in childhood can cause drastic and visible change in sexual conduct and mannerisms.
It is also possible that the trauma of CSA may create sexual identity anxiety or confusion.
What are the issues and challenges?
Absence of exclusive ‘Special’ Courts and Special Public Prosecutors.
Children are often exposed to the accused, and aggressive questioning of survivors persists, resulting in survivors frequently turning hostile, more so in the absence of any witness protection systems.
Failure on the part of the police to collect relevant evidence, take statements of relevant witnesses, or collect forensic samples correctly are some of the major lapses that affect convictions.
A survey of 100 survivors of sexual assault by the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights revealed that one in three children who faced sexual abuse dropped out of school.
Further, only 15% of the survivors received compensation.
The introduction of the death penalty for child sexual assault shifts attention away from the poor state of the implementation of the POCSO Act.
Child sexual abuse is a very serious matter. A society where the most vulnerable and innocent are regularly and dreadfully abused is indicative of a sombre situation that undoubtedly demands urgent intervention. This can be achieved by ensuring that children are protected and supported when they courageously report sexual offences, when child-friendly procedures are followed meticulously and investigation and prosecutions are strengthened. Further steps like Establishment of exclusive Special Courts and investment in infrastructure, people and training, implementation of a robust victim and witness protection program are necessary for will providing the much-needed framework for ensuring support and protection to child survivors of sexual offences, enabling both higher conviction rates and greater levels of healing and rehabilitation of child survivors.