Survivors may get to report sexual abuse as a child till age 25
For people who have been sexually abused as children, the Union women and child development (WCD) ministry is seeking a seven-year time limit, after they turn 18, to report such offences, senior ministry officials familiar with the development said.
If the move gets a nod from the Centre, it will mean survivors will have to file a complaint before they turn 25, after which the statute of limitations will expire.
The issue was discussed at a review meeting chaired by women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi last week. “It was decided that having a specific time limit will help ensure that evidences or samples in sexual offence cases such as rape and molestation are good enough to stand scrutiny,” said a ministry official who asked not to be named.
A second ministry official said: “We are examining if the clause to have a seven-year time limit can be incorporated in the POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offence) Act — the special law to protect children from sexual abuse — besides seeking an amendment to the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), which is the procedural law and specifies the statute of limitations for filing complaint.”
The official added, “We will write to ministry of home affairs (MHA) again seeking an amendment to CrPC. We had written to MHA in February but at that time we had not specified the time limit.”
Currently, under section 468 of CrPC, the time limit for reporting an offence that is punishable with a fine is six months. For offences punishable with imprisonment of up to one year, the statutory time limit for reporting the incident is one year. For offences punishable with imprisonment of up to three years, the time limit for filing a complaint is three years. There is no specification of the time limit for offences in which the punishment is beyond three years in prison.
Another section of the CrPC, 473, says a court may take cognisance of an older case if it is in the “interest of justice” or the “delay has been properly explained”.
WCD ministry officials, however, said that despite Section 473 there have been many instances where law enforcement agencies have failed to lodge a complaint when child survivors of sexual abuse tried to lodge complaint after they turned adult.
“It is to ensure that no survivor is turned away from lodging a complaint till he/she is 25-year-old that we are proposing the time limit,” the second official said. The ministry decided to take up the issue of allowing survivors of child sexual abuse to report the crime later in life after an Indian-origin woman living in Canada complained to the WCD minister in January that law enforcement agencies in India had refused to lodge her complaint.
The woman who was sexually abused by a relative 51 years ago, when she was a young girl had come to Chennai to report her complaint.
The change that the WCD ministry wants now, however, would not have helped the woman because of the proposed age limit.
Legal experts said they were against the time limit for filing complaint in such offences.
“Putting a time limit that bars a survivor from lodging complaint after he/she is 25 years old will prove counter-productive. Sometimes, it takes ages for a victim who was abused as a child to come out of the trauma,” said advocate Alakh Alok Srivastava who had filed a PIL in Supreme Court in January demanding death penalty for child rapists.