Why is it in the news?
- The Law Commission of India has recommended keeping the age of consent at 18 years under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act but introducing guided judicial discretion for cases involving individuals aged 16-18.
- The Commission believes that introducing judicial discretion in sentencing for cases with tacit approval rather than consent among adolescents aged 16 to 18 will balance the law’s application while safeguarding the best interests of the child.
More about the news
- The report suggests that blanket criminalization of sexual activity among children can lead to unintended consequences, including the incarceration of young adolescents due to sexual curiosity and exploration.
- The Commission acknowledges the mental trauma and harassment faced by children caught within the POCSO Act due to consensual acts and calls for steps to address this issue.
- Three possible solutions were considered: reducing the age of consent to 16, introducing a limited exception for consensual sexual acts involving children above 16, and introducing judicial discretion in sentencing for consensual romantic relationships involving adolescents aged 16-18.
- The Commission opposes reducing the age of consent to 16, as it could lead to unintended consequences, including potential misuse of the defense of consent.
- The report emphasizes the need to protect children, especially young girls aged 16 to 18, from exploitation and grooming, which could occur if the age of consent is reduced.
- The recommended approach is to introduce limited judicial discretion at the sentencing stage, which would be guided and well-insulated from potential misuse. The Special Court would have discretion in cases where there appears to be factual consent from a child aged 16 or above.
- The Commission suggests amending Sections 4 and 8 of the POCSO Act, as well as Section 18 of the Juvenile Justice Act and corresponding sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) to align with these recommendations.
- It also advocates for spreading awareness about child sexual abuse, sexual and reproductive health, and the provisions of the POCSO Act. Comprehensive and age-appropriate sex education in schools is recommended.
- The report highlights the need for informed and empowered adolescents and recommends utilizing government programs for this purpose.
- Overall, the Law Commission’s recommendations aim to strike a balance between protecting children from sexual exploitation and ensuring that the law is not overly punitive for consensual activities among adolescents aged 16 to 18.
About Law Commission of India
- Law Commission of India is neither a constitutional body nor a statutory body, it is an executive body established by an order of the Government of India. Its major function is to work for legal reforms.
- The Commission is established for a fixed tenure and works as an advisory body to the Ministry of Law and Justice.
- Its membership primarily comprises legal experts.
Some of the recent reports are:
- Report No. 277 –Wrongful Prosecution (Miscarriage of Justice): Legal Remedies
- Report No. 275– Legal Framework: BCCI vis-à-vis Right to Information Act, 2005
- Report No. 274 –Review of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971
- Report No. 273 –Implementation of the United Nations Convention against Torture
- Report No. 272 –Assessment of Statutory Frameworks of Tribunals in India
- Report No. 271 –Human DNA Profiling
- The recommendations of the commission are not binding on the government. They may be accepted or rejected. Action on the said recommendations depends on the ministries/departments, which are concerned with the subject matter of the recommendations.
Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act
- The POCSO Act came into effect on 14th November 2012.
- The Act was enacted in consequence to India’s ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1992.
- The primary aim of the POCSO Act is to address offences of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of children, which were either not specifically defined or adequately penalized under existing laws.
- According to the Act, a child is defined as any person below the age of 18 years.
- The Act provides for punishment that varies based on the gravity of the offence, with the intention of ensuring that those who commit sexual offences against children face appropriate consequences.
- In 2019, the POCSO Act was reviewed and amended to introduce more stringent punishments, including the death penalty, for committing sexual crimes against children. This amendment aimed to deter perpetrators and prevent such crimes against children.
- The Government of India has also notified the POCSO Rules, 2020, which provide detailed guidelines and procedures for the implementation of the Act.
Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015
- The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act was introduced and passed in 2015, replacing the previous Juvenile Delinquency Law and the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act of 2000.
- The Act provided provisions allowing trials of juveniles in the age group of 16-18 years as adults, especially in cases involving heinous crimes. This marked a departure from the earlier practice of treating all juveniles under 18 as children in conflict with the law.