The Rajya Sabha on Wednesday unanimously passed the bill to amend Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act 2012 (POCSO) to provide stricter punishments for child sex abuse.
The minimum punishment for 'aggravate penetrative sexual assault' is proposed to be increased from ten years to twenty years. The maximum punishment for this offence is proposed as death penalty.
'Aggravated penetrative sexual assault', as per the Act, includes cases when a police officer, a member of the armed forces, or a public servant commits penetrative sexual assault on a child and also covers cases where the offender is a relative of the child, or if the assault injures the sexual organs of the child or the child becomes pregnant, among others.
As regards 'penetrative sexual assault' the Bill increases the minimum punishment from seven years to ten years. It further adds that if a person commits penetrative sexual assault on a child below the age of 16 years, he will be punishable with imprisonment between 20 years to life, with a fine.
The Bill adds two more offences to the definition of aggravated sexual assault. These include: (i) assault committed during a natural calamity, and (ii) administrating or help in administering any hormone or any chemical substance, to a child for the purpose of attaining early sexual maturity.
The Bill as originally introduced proposed to add two more grounds to the definition of 'aggravated penetrative sexual assault' to include: (i) assault resulting in death of child, and (ii) assault committed during a natural calamity, or in any similar situations of violence.
During the debate in the House, several members expressed that the sexual acts committed on children during communal or sectarian violence should also be covered under 'aggravated penetrative assault'. This was originally there in the Act, and the Bill proposed to substitute 'communal or sectarian violence' with 'assault committed during a natural calamity, or in any similar situations of violence'.
Accepting the suggestions of the House, Union Minister for Women and Child Development Smriti Irani moved an amendment to specifically mention 'communal or sectarian violence' in the definition of 'aggravated penetrative sexual assault'.
The Bill defines child pornography as any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a child including photograph, video, digital or computer generated image indistinguishable from an actual child.
During the discussion, TMC member Derek O'brien recounted the shocking experience of sexual abuse he had to face as a 12 year old boy. He stressed the need to shed the stigma attached to sex abuse so that children will feel free to open up about the issues.
Union Minister Smriti Irani lauded O'brien for showing the courage to share his trauma to the world. She assured the House that the Government has sanctioned additional amount for setting up 1023 special POCSO courts within this financial year itself for fast tracking trial in cases. The Centre will closely monitor the establishment and functioning of the fast track courts by collaborating with the State Governments and High Courts, she said.