New Delhi: Bringing sexual offences against children under legal purview for the first time, a draft bill on the issue fixes 16 years as the age of consent for sex and awarding harsh punishments for offenders.
Till now, all sexual abuse cases against children were tried under sections 375 and 377 of the IPC. While section 375 also fixed 16 years as the minimum age of consent, there was no specific mention of offences against children as such.
The bill describes a child -- boy or girl -- as an individual below the age of 18 and suggests that in cases where "penetrative sexual assault" is committed against a child between 16 and 18 years (both inclusive), it should be considered whether the consent for such an act has been obtained against his or her will; or through fraud, deceit, coercion, undue influence, threats; or when the child did not have the capacity to understand the nature of the act; or if it was committed without the child`s consent.
The punishment recommended in such cases is imprisonment up to five years, says the draft of Protection of Children From Sexual Offences Bill, 2010.
Where a person is prosecuted for violating any of the provisions of the proposed bill, and where the victim is below 16 years, the burden of proving that he has not committed such violation shall be on the accused person.
But harsher punishment, ranging from a minimum of 10 years to life term, has been recommended for those accused of aggravated penetrative sexual assault, a category which will include offences committed in a place of custody or care or protection, or when under the guardianship or foster care.
Policemen, personnel of the security forces and the armed forces, and public servants found guilty of sexual offences against children will be tried under this category.
It will include managements of hospitals, educational institutions, jails and even private institutions. Committing this offence with a deadly weapon, physically incapacitating the child or causing the child to become mentally ill or unfit to perform regular tasks, even causing pregnancy, or inflicting the child with Human
Immunodeficiency Virus or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome or any other life threatening disease will be treated under the category.
The bill defines offences, namely, penetrative sexual assault, aggravated penetrative sexual assault, sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, sexual harassment and use of child for child pornography.
"For speedy trial, the state governments have been mandated to designate a court of session in each district to be a special court to try offences under the bill," Women and Child Development Minister Krishna Tirath said.
The bill which has been currently sent to state governments for opinion will be presented before the Cabinet soon and might be introduced in the coming Budget session of Parliament, officials said.