The Madras High Court on Wednesday categorically made remarks highlighting rampant misuse of the POCSO Act by families for prosecuting the partner of their teenage daughters. The court noted,
Punishing an adolescent boy who enters into a relationship with a minor girl by treating him as an offender, was never the objective of the POCSO Act.
A Single Bench of Justice N. Anand Venkatesh therefore insisted that the legislature must keep pace with the changing societal needs and bring about necessary changes in law and more particularly in a stringent law such as the POCSO Act.
The court was dealing with a case where a 20-year-old boy was apprehended by the police for kidnapping and sexually assaulting a minor girl. The judge noted that the relationship between both minor boy and minor girl was consensual and said,
Incidents of this nature keep occurring regularly even now in villages and towns and occasionally in cities. After the parents or family lodge a complaint, the police register FIRs for offences of kidnapping and various offences under the POCSO Act.
Several criminal cases booked under the POCSO Act fall under this category. As a consequence of such a FIR being registered, invariably the boy gets arrested and thereafter, his youthful life comes to a grinding halt.
Adding further the court said,
The provisions of the POCSO Act, as it stands today, will surely make the acts of the boy an offence due to its stringent nature. An adolescent boy caught in a situation like this will surely have no defense if the criminal case is taken to its logical end.
It is high time that the legislature takes into consideration cases of this nature involving adolescents involved in relationships and swiftly bring in necessary amendments under the Act. The legislature has to keep pace with the changing societal needs and bring about necessary changes in law and more particularly in a stringent law such as the POCSO Act.
Punishing Minor Boy For Consensual Relationship
The Bench emphasized that punishing an adolescent boy who enters into a relationship with a minor girl by treating him as an offender, was never the objective of the POCSO Act.
An adolescent boy and girl who are in the grips of their hormones and biological changes and whose decision-making ability is yet to fully develop, should essentially receive the support and guidance of their parents and the society at large.
These incidents should never be perceived from an adult’s point of view and such an understanding will in fact lead to lack of empathy. An adolescent boy who is sent to prison in a case of this nature will be persecuted throughout his life.
Minor Boys Involved In Love Affairs
The bench further recalled the case of Sabari v. Inspector of Police where a Single Judge of the High Court discussed that persons of the age group of 16 to 18 years are involved in love affairs and how in some cases ultimately end up in a criminal case booked for an offence under the POSCO Act. The court said,
As rightly recognized by the Learned Single Judge of this Court in Sabari’s Case (cited supra), incidences where teenagers and young adults fall victim to offences under the POCSO Act being slapped against them without understanding the implication of the severity of the enactment is an issue that brings much concern to the conscience of this Court.
A reading of the Statement of Objects and Reasons of the POCSO Act would show that the Act was brought into force to protect children from offences of sexual assault, sexual harassment and pornography, pursuant to Article 15 of the Constitution of India, 1950 and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
However, a large array of cases filed under the POCSO Act seems to be those arising on the basis of complaints registered by the families of adolescents and teenagers who are involved in romantic relationships with each other. The scheme of the Act clearly shows that it did not intend to bring within its scope or ambit, cases of the nature where adolescents or teenagers involved in romantic relationships are concerned.
The Bench cautioned,
There can be no second thought as to the seriousness of offences under the POCSO Act and the object it seeks to achieve. However, it is also imperative for this Court to draw the thin line that demarcates the nature of acts that should not be made to fall within the scope of the Act, for such is the severity of the sentences provided under the Act, justifiably so, that if acted upon hastily or irresponsibly, it could lead to irreparable damage to the reputation and livelihood of youth whose actions would have been only innocuous.
What came to be a law to protect and render justice to victims and survivors of child abuse, can, become a tool in the hands of certain sections of the society to abuse the process of law.
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