Ensure justice for child sexual abuse survivors | HT Editorial
The Bombay High Court ruling that a man who molested a 12-year-old child could not be held guilty under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Pocso) Act, 2012, on the grounds that there was no disrobing involved, sets a dangerous precedent in cases of child sexual abuse. Justice P Ganediwala held that since there was no skin-to-skin contact, this did not fall within the ambit of Pocso. The accused has been convicted only under Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code for outraging the modesty of the girl, which carries a minimum sentence of one year as opposed to a minimum of three years under the Pocso Act.
The ruling is disturbing. It is a literal interpretation of the law and overlooks the fact that Pocso does not mention clothing as a factor in the crime of molesting a child. This is a matter of violating the bodily integrity of the victim. The interpretation also does not recognise the long-term psychological damage that child sexual abuse victims suffer.
This reading of the law will dilute cases of child abuse and make it difficult to ensure justice. The National Commission of Women has pointed out that the order will have a cascading impact on women safety and trivialised the legal architecture in place, and has decided, rightly so, to challenge the order. The National Commission of Protection of Child Rights has asked the Maharashtra government to appeal against the judgment too. This must be done promptly. The issue should also force a relook at the wording of the Act and other laws, which deal with child abuse. There can be no room for ambiguity in child abuse cases and any loophole which allows for this must be plugged at once.