In Focus

Stringent law to protect abuse of minors

By Kriti Kalra

India is among the very few nations which has a separate and stringent law to effectively address the heinous crimes of sexual assault, sexual harassment and child pornography. The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO) was enacted to protect ‘children’ from the offences and provides for establishment of Special Courts for trial and related matters.

Of all the crimes that we know of and understand, rape is probably the most brutal and evokes heightened public sentiments. Rape survivors are traumatised for life, their families live in shame and survivors find it very difficult to assimilate in the society owing to the taboo associated with this crime.

The situation is even worse if a child is raped because the child is not capable of understanding and handling the trauma and the effects linger for the rest of the child’s life. Prior to POCSO Act, any sexual abuse or assault with a child was covered under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that was ambiguous and not stringent.

Child abuse and rape were not uncommon but it was the abduction, brutal gang rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Kathua, Jammu and Kashmir in 2018 that triggered an unprecedented public outrage, similar to the one that gripped India after the Nirbhaya gang rape case in New Delhi. The seven accused were charged under relevant sections of the penal code effective in Jammu and Kashmir. However, the outcry that followed the incident was devoid of the objectivity that is needed to tackle such issues.

The Kathua rape case and the following protests lead to an ordinance passed by the Indian government as a knee-jerk reaction to the incident whose goriness infused rage and anger in the nation. To fulfill retribution as an outcome of legal punishment in the Indian criminal justice system, death penalty was demanded for the accused.

A similar demand was made by the people when Nirbhaya gang rape in December 2012 led to a nation-wide protest and support for death penalty for such crimes. Justice Verma committee formed made recommendations for legal reforms in sexual crimes. It must be noted, however, that the committee was not in favour of death penalty for rape stating it may not have a deterrent effect, another outcome of legal punishment in the Indian criminal justice system. The committee had recommended increased jail sentence instead for such convicts.