Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act
- A lower court in Kerala has awarded the death sentence to a 28-year-old migrant worker from Bihar for the rape and murder of a 5-year-old girl belonging to another Bihari migrant family.
- The case has shaken the collective conscience of the society.
- Pronouncing the verdict, special court judge K Soman noted that it was a “rarest of the rare” case and that the court would be “failing in its duty” if the maximum punishment was not imposed on Asafaq Alam.
- The court had heard that Alam had abducted the girl, forced liquor down her throat and raped her repeatedly before murdering her.
- In order to effectively address the heinous crimes of sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children through less ambiguous and more stringent legal provisions, the Ministry of Women and Child Development championed the introduction of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012.
- The 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 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.
Salient features of the act:
- The Act is gender neutral and regards the best interests and welfare of the child as a matter of paramount importance at every stage so as to ensure the healthy physical, emotional, intellectual and social development of the child.
- The Act defines a child as any person below eighteen years of age, and regards the best interests and well-being of the child as being of paramount importance at every stage, to ensure the healthy physical, emotional, intellectual and social development of the child.
- It defines different forms of sexual abuse, including penetrative and non-penetrative assault, as well as sexual harassment and pornography, and 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-à-vis the child, like a family member, police officer, teacher, or doctor.
- People who traffic children for sexual purposes are also punishable under the provisions relating to abetment in the Act.
- The Act prescribes stringent punishment graded as per the gravity of the offence, with a maximum term of rigorous imprisonment for life, and fine.
- It defines “child pornography” as any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a child which include photograph, video, digital or computer generated image indistinguishable from an actual child, and image created, adapted, or modified, but appear to depict a child.