October 10, 2011


Hindustan Times


The case of a six-year parent, who was allegedly sodomised by a teacher, has revived the debate on the need for a stringent law on child sexual abuse.

The Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences Bill, which proposes harsher punishment of imprisonment from seven years to life, is still pending in the Parliament.

While the bill addresses issues such as defining sexual abuse and setting up of special courts to deal with such cases, activists have raised questions regarding the age of consent and lack of preventive clauses.

“In the absence of a special law, it is hard to prove cases in court,“ said Nishit Kumar, spokesperson, Childline, a nonprofit, which works for child rights.

The bill also recommends the appointment of a special public prosecutor in such cases.

“There is no proper law to deal with cases where victims are boys. The new bill is gender neutral, which is good,“ said Priti Patkar, who runs an NGO called Prerna that helps children of commercial sex workers.

The bill proposes to make all offences related to child sexual abuse non-bailable.

“No matter how good the draft is, if the machinery is not implemented it is useless,“ said Sangeeta Punekar, a child rights activist, adding that the bill needs to address witness protection.

Another concern for experts is the age of consent. The bill states that if a victim is between 16 to 18 years, then his/her consent needs to be considered.
Author Pinki Virani, whose book Bitter Chocolate deals with child sexual abuse in India, wrote a letter to the Parliamentary Standing Committee in July for redrafting of the bill. “Around 25% of child prostitutes are between 15 and 18 years of age.
Around five lakh children are forced into this trade every year.
The state wants to add to these figures by lowering the age (of consent),“ the letter states.

Yug Chaudhary, a criminal lawyer, said the bill could criminalise exploratory sexual behaviour among children. He said the bill widened the range of sexual offences without providing adequate protection. “If two 15-yearolds have consensual sex, the bill puts the boy in the range of criminal law and makes consensual innocence irrelevant,“ he said.

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