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POCSO Amendment: Loopholes and Breakthroughs

Heinous. Nefarious. Monstrous. No adjective can aptly define the cruelty and the sense of abject revulsion that is associated with the utterly unpardonable act of sexually assaulting a child. Taking advantage of a child’s innocence and trampling upon it by subjecting her/him through such a harrowing experience is the worst possible sin anyone can commit and inflict upon someone.

If you’ve read The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy, you’ll recollect an incident of sexual abuse that a young boy faces, and the kind of suffering he undergoes in the decades that follow. Sexual abuse of any kind is unforgivable, but when it happens to children, it is pure evil. Not that it is any less inhuman when it happens to adults, but the trauma is more deeply embedded in children than in adults and a lot of times, children are unaware of what’s happening to them. Caressing and hugging, are acts that their parents do too, and often children confuse an inappropriate touch with a gesture of love. Such a blatant exploitation of a young mind, deserves nothing but the harshest of punishments.

The new amendment to the POCSO (Prevention of Child Sexual Offences, 2012), too holds a similar opinion. In the case of penetrative sexual assault, the perpetrator may be sentenced up to 20 years of prison and in the case of an aggravated, penetrative sexual assault, a death penalty may be levied. Under aggravated assault, there are two new grounds, that include assaulting a child during the time of a natural calamity or violence, and administering hormones to artificially speed up the process of hitting puberty for the purpose of attaining sexual maturity.

And at the face of it, it seems just. No one can hurt a child and get away with it. But upon digging further, several questions arise.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, 94% of the reported cases of child rape, are committed by members known to the family or the victim herself/himself. And for a country like India, that is perpetually obsessed with the idea of safeguarding its ‘honor’, there are chances that a family might choose to abstain from reporting such an incident.

One, for the fear of losing someone to a potential death penalty, two, for the perceived shame that will follow.

I have slightly conflicting opinions on this point. While I do agree that it might lead to some reluctance on the family’s part vis-à-vis reporting it to the police, the act in itself is worthy of nothing less than a death sentence as a punishment. However, won’t stringent measures at some point help reduce the rate of crimes and help instill a sense of fear among perpetrators?

On the other hand, Pedophilia, under the DSM V is classified as a psychiatric disorder. In which case, is imprisonment the right solution? Shouldn’t the government also focus on providing the perpetrators psychological support? Imprisonment for ten, say twenty years is highly unlikely to bring about a change in the psyche of the perpetrator and the bill makes no mention of psychological intervention to the perpetrator. While I find it hard to digest that the perpetrator is worthy of any mercy, it is also important to realise where it is stemming from. And studies show that it is a sick mind that often pushes them into doing such things. I believe both sides of the argument hold ground, but it is difficult to pinpoint and say which one is stronger.

Another important feature of the bill is the complete ban on any form of child pornography, including owing any pornographic material featuring children. Additionally, the government plans to set up over 1000 fast track courts to handle cases under POCSO to ensure speedy justice. These moves for certain, are most welcome and should be embraced without too much brouhaha and criticism.

But legal reform aside, there also needs to be active civic action. Children need to be made aware of consent, good touches and bad touches, parents need to be sensitized on how to prevent such an incident from happening, and how to handle it if the child reports of such a case and peers should be taught to look out for each other and in case they suspect something is wrong, should know that they can approach a teacher or a parent and broach this subject without any hesitation.

While the bill is a step forward towards ensuring a safer country for our children, we’ve still got a long way to go.

Milana Prakash is the Editorial Assistant at One Future Collective.

Featured image source: The Hans India

Disclaimer: Views shared in this article are personal and may not represent that of the organisations.

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