Age of consent should be lowered to 16, observes Madras High Court
Consensual relationships between teenagers aged between 16 and 18 years should not come within the purview of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, and that a child should be redefined as someone below 16 years of age, instead of the current 18, the Madras High Court observed on Friday.
“Any consensual sex after the age of 16 or bodily contact or allied acts could be excluded from the rigorous provisions of POCSO Act, and sexual assault could be tried under more liberal provisions which can be introduced in the Act, differentiating sexual assault and teenage relationships,” Justice V Parthiban of the high court, observed.
The court was hearing the matter of a petitioner named Sabari (an alias, since the petitioner is a minor), who was convicted by a Fast Track Mahila Court in Namakkal, Tamil Nadu, in June 2018,sentencing him to 10 years rigorous imprisonment with a fine of Rs 3000, under POCSO.
Setting aside the verdict of the trial court, the judge observed, “In cases where the age of the girl is below 18 years, even though she is capable of giving consent, being mentally matured, unfortunately, the provisions of POCSO Act get attracted if such a relationship transcends beyond platonic limits, catching up with the so called offender of sexual assault warranting a severe imprisonment of 7/10 years.”
“Therefore, on a profound consideration of the ground realities, the definition of ‘Child’ can be redefined as 16 instead of 18,” the judge opined.
This has been a long-standing demand of child rights activists who are opposed to the applicability of the act, which is meant to protect children from crimes committed by adults. A sizeable number of those arrested, experts say, are often teenage boys who are in consensual relationships with the girls.
Expressing concern about the growing incidences of offences and the punishment laid out in the POCSO Act, the judge said the reports of the police, the State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, Commissioner of Social Defence and Department of Social Welfare, clearly show that a majority of the cases were adolescent relationships.
He directed these bodies to take this matter up with competent authorities.