New Delhi: The Cabinet on Thursday approved amendments in a Bill under which any sexual activity, even consensual, with a person below the age of 18 would be considered an offence.
In the earlier version of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Bill, 2011, consensual sexual activity with children between the age groups 16 to 18 was not considered a crime.
The Ministry recommended these amendments to its original draft following the recommendation of the parliamentary Standing Committee in its report in December 2011.
The parliamentary committee had expressed the view that once the age of the child had been specified as up to 18 years in the Bill, the element of consent should be treated as irrelevant up to this age and suggested that provisions related to age of consent should be deleted.
The previous Bill had provided that if sexual assault is committed against a child between 16 to 18 years of age, it would be considered if it was with the consent of the child or whether there had been a use of violence, force, threat to use force, intoxicants or other means.
Another amendment to the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Bill was approved today after which the responsibility to create awareness about the law would be vested in both the central and state governments, officials said.
Officials said that the WCD Ministry had proposed several amendments to its `The Protection of Women Against Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill, 2010 which the Cabinet referred to a Group of Ministers.
This is the first time that a powerful legislation has been brought to tackle offences specifically against children that are not dealt with under existing laws.
It also seeks to include abuse of boys while bringing trafficking and child pornography under the ambit of the law. The bill has dropped the `age of consent` (16-18 years) clause after a controversial recommendation by a parliamentary panel that under the IPC and the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, a person below 18 is considered a minor, and there should be uniformity in laws.
The removal of "age of consent" clause from the `sexual offences against children bill` effectively means any sexual interaction with any person below the age of 18 is an offence if either party files a complaint or if it is discovered.
The bill recommends 10 years of imprisonment extendable to life imprisonment and fine for aggravated sexual assault.
The bill provides for treating sexual assault as “aggravated offence” when it is committed by a person in position of trust or authority including a member of the security forces, police officer, public servant, management or staff of a children’s home, hospital or educational institution.
It will be treated as an aggravated offence where the child victim is below 12 years or has mental or physical disability or the sexual offence causes grievous hurt or injury to the child with long term adverse effect on the child’s mind and body.
The punishment for such an offence would be imprisonment of upto seven years with fine. The punishment for penetrative sexual assault has been proposed to be at least five years in jail and a minimum fine of Rs50,000.
The bill mooted by the Ministry of Women and Child Development (WCD) is in response to the increasing incidents of sexual offences against children. However, these are dogged by a low conviction rate.
With Agency Input