The Union Cabinet has approved amendments to the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012. The amendments are proposed by the Ministry of Women and Child Development.
POSCO is a gender-neutral law protects both boys and girls under the age of 18. The amendments proposed are:
- The amendments provide for stringent punishment, including the death penalty, for committing aggravated penetrative sexual assault crime on a child, both boys and girls, below the age of 18.
- The amendments extend the punishment for aggravated penetrative sexual assault from a minimum of 10 years to a minimum of 20 years, up to a maximum of life imprisonment and even the death penalty.
- The amendments are proposed to protect children from sexual offences in times of natural calamities and disasters.
- The amendment also proposes to alter the definition of sexual assault to include administering hormones to children expedite their sexual maturity for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation.
Why the amendments were proposed?
The Ministry of Women and Child Development cites the reports of rapes of young girls in the aftermath of Kedarnath floods. Data shows that children constitute 50-60% of victims of calamities. Hence there was a need to add rapes in course of natural calamities as the 21st category under aggravated penetrative sexual assault.
The cabinet has approved the death penalty for those convicted of raping girls below the age of 12 under IPC. But IPC is not gender neutral. Since POSCO is a gender-neutral law the amendments widen the range of cases of sexual assault against boys and girls under 18 that are now punishable by death.
Is law a deterrent?
Government proposes that amendments will further enhance the deterrence against sexual assault on children. But the data shows that less than 3% of all POCSO cases end in convictions and experts further warn against the chilling effect the death penalty may have on reporting the crime. Hence it can be said that law by itself will not be a deterrent but systemic changes in law enforcement and prosecution hold the key to tackling child sexual abuse.