The POCSO Amendment Bill introduced by Smriti Irani, Union Minister for Women and Child Development entailing amendments to the POCSO Act 2012 by including death penalty for aggravated sexual assault on children, besides providing strict punishments for other crimes against minors was passed on July 24 in Rajya Sabha. The bill seeks to enhance punishment, including a provision for the death penalty, for committing sexual crimes against children. On August 1, the bill was unanimously passed by the Lower House.
Stringent punishment detailed in the ‘Act’ claims to curb the incidences of child sexual abuse cases and the inhumane mindset of the abusers who have been barbaric in their approach towards young victims.
Under the Act, ‘aggravated penetrative sexual assault’ include cases when a police officer, member of armed forces, or a public servant, commits penetrative sexual intercourse on a child and also cover cases where the offender is a relative of the child or if the assault injures the sexual organs of the child, or the child becomes pregnant, among others.
As per records of the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) in Sikkim, maximum cases of POCSO read with penetrative sexual assault of children that were committed by people known to the victims – such as immediate family relatives, neighbours, boyfriends or others known persons.
The Act increases the minimum punishment from seven to ten years and further adds that if a person commits penetrative assault on a child below the age of 16 years, he will be punishable with imprisonment between 20 years to life, with an added fine.
Although some like Pushpa Mishra, a member of the CWC believes that fear of the death penalty will serve pressure upon children and their families as the trauma and guilt of sending someone they know to the gallow may become a heavy burden.
She adds, “This will also severely impact the reporting of child sexual abuse by children with disabilities if they are being sexually abused by their caregivers because most of the reporting is insisted on by CWC, Childline or suo moto by providing counselling. Victims and their family never come forward to register such cases.”
Some of the reports online state that there has been a rise in crime against children in the country in recent years. It is estimated that 1.6 lakh cases of child abuse are pending in 31 states and Union Territories (UTs).
When it comes to Sikkim, child sexual abuse is no less in numbers. It is as rampant as in other parts of the country. The increasing trend of crimes against children in the recent past from amongst the Northeastern States (as published in article ‘Silent Screams’ by Roshnila Gurung) shows that Sikkim stands third after Assam and Mizoram.
“We do need extraordinary measures as stringent as death penalty to deter what has become so rampant and pervasive so that we have a system that leaves no stones unturned to deliver justice to those affected”, says Roshnila Gurung, District Child Protection Officer, south Sikkim, “Retributive justice, especially in cases of aggravated sexual assault is something which is the need of the hour and a strong message through it has to be disseminated to curb the menace that has crippled our society. The impact that sexual abuse has on a child is way beyond what we can comprehend the pain and trauma that follows abuse is not just limited to the physiological body but beyond that.”
The latest National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) 2016, reveals that there has been a sharp increase in the cases of crime against children in comparison to the data of the previous year (2015) with 82% spike only in cases of sexual abuse. The NCRB shows that while in 2015, 14,913 cases of rape under Sec 376 of IPC and sections 4 and 6 of the POCSO Act 2012 was registered across the country, 2016 saw 19,765 such cases being registered.
The POCSO Amendment Bill will definitely have its impact on the nation and Sikkimese society as well. With the rising number of cases, some may even face the death penalty?
It is now being viewed through several prisms of understanding in Sikkim, but the most underrated issue is of victims being given the space to speak up. Mingma Lhamu Loday, a lawyer who works closely with child rights believes that the problem is not with the laws, but its implementation. “The issue in POCSO matter for a child starts right from the child opening up to close ones, to her recording of the statement in the court. We should be focusing more on victim-friendly environment be it at home, school, police station or the court room”.
Women and Child Development Minister, Smriti Irani said that CBSE schools across the country would have classes that brought to awareness the difference between good and bad touch. This move may be considered a huge step in teaching children about sex education, something that the schools in our country have shied away from.
Another important part of the bill is the stress being put on child pornography, defining it as “visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a child” (video, photos or any digitally created image) and penalisation if the aforementioned leads to aggravated sexual assault. Storage and circulation of such pornographic material is also a severely punishable offence which results in imprisonment from 3 years to life, enhanced with certain offences.
Although a death penalty seems severe, almost draconian some would say, the truth of the situation is that these cases will continue unless the core values of people at large are changed. The most important thing we need to do is safeguard our children by making them aware of these issues and urging them to speak out without fear, making sure we support them every step of the way, without any judgement or prejudice.