16+ offenders to be charged as ‘Adults’ in sexual assault cases, Panel suggests changes in POCSO act

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To check increasing crimes against children, a top panel has recommended to the Union government that the age limit under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act be reduced from 18 to 16 years.

According to the data furnished by the committee, cases registered under POCSO rose from 32,608 in 2017 to 47,325 in 2019, which is an increase of nearly 45% in just a span of two years.

The committee made some important recommendations including checking cyber crimes, improving the condition of sex workers and increasing police accountability in cases of crime against women.

However, it also stated that there have been instances where the stringent law has been misused to criminalise consensual relationships. The panel’s recommendations will now be tabled in Parliament as early as next week.

What is the current situation?

In India, anyone in the age group of 16 to 18 years who has been charged with heinous crimes like rape, sexual offence or murder can be tried as an adult under POCSO or the Indian Penal Code. This decision usually lies with a juvenile justice board.

If a culprit is tried as a juvenile, they are sent to a reform home instead of a jail and later sent to rehabilitation centres.

What the panel has to says?

The members of the parliamentary panel on home affairs are of the opinion that any juvenile who has been convicted of any minor sexual offence may grow up to commit more heinous crimes if not corrected at the right age.

Hence the panel wants the Union Home Ministry and Women and Child Development Ministry to see if the age limit could be reduced to 16 years for trying people as adults under the POCSO act.

The current scenario is very alarming as there is a steep rise in cases of teenage boys raping or assaulting a girl child, some as young as only 3 or 4 years old.

However, some experts argue that reducing the age would be contrary to the jurisprudence of juvenile justice.

Panel recommendation

The panel also noted that there was potential for misuse of the law. They cited examples where an 18-year-old boy was arrested under POCSO for marrying a juvenile girl with her consent.

The panel also commended Uttar Pradesh for its good conviction rate under the law.

About POCSO Act

Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act was enacted in 2012. POCSO Act was enacted to check mounting crimes against children. Under this Act, there is a maximum punishment of life imprisonment and death.

POCSO Act defines anyone under the age of 18 years as child.

The Juvenile Justice Act, 2000 which governs proceedings against minors in India, was amended in 2015 to try some juveniles between 16 and 18 as adults if they were accused of heinous crimes. This attracts a minimum punishment of seven years.

The change came in the backdrop of the 2012 Delhi gang-rape case, where one of the accused was 17 and tried as a minor.

Data presented by Panel

Cases registered under POCSO Act rose from 32,608 in 2017 to 47,325 in 2019.

This is an increase of nearly 45% in just a span of two years.

The panel noted that cybercrime against women and children rose from 4,330 in 2017 to 8,684 in 2019.

The panel added that such cyber crimes against women even transcended geographical boundaries.

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