POCSO Act: Why the SC’s ruling is critical
The Supreme Court (SC) on November 18 overturned an atrocious interpretation by the Bombay High Court (HC) of Section 7 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, which ruled that only skin-to-skin contact constituted sexual assault. The specious logic was that the child was clothed at the time of the assault. The SC made it clear that it is sexual intent that constitutes the offence of sexual assault. The SC rightly held that this absurdly narrow interpretation would destroy the intent of the far-reaching law, which is meant to protect children. The HC’s ruling suggests that if the victim was clothed, as was reportedly the case of the child in question, or if the offender was wearing gloves or any other material while carrying out the assault, he could escape the full punishment under the law. The accused was given just one year of imprisonment under Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code while the penalty for the crime, which falls under Section 7 of the POCSO Act, is three years of rigorous imprisonment.
The HC ruling trivialised unacceptable behaviour. The SC has reversed, and not a moment too soon, a controversial verdict that could have created a dangerous precedent. It also held that when the legislature’s intent is clear, the courts cannot create any ambiguity as the HC did. An earlier Bombay HC judgment by the same judge allowed a 50-year-old man to go free after he engaged in sexual misconduct with a five-year-old girl because this did not constitute sexual assault. The latest SC ruling upholds the legal safeguards and rights of children, and makes the environment safer for them.