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Teenage Pregnancies -Doctor Need Not Disclose Identity Of Minor Girl Seeking Abortion In Information Given To Police : Supreme Court

Padmakshi Sharma
29 Sep 2022 9:45 AM GMT
Teenage Pregnancies -Doctor Need Not Disclose Identity Of Minor Girl Seeking Abortion In Information Given To Police : Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court on Wednesday read down the mandatory police reporting requirement under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act to hold that a doctor need not disclose the name and identity of the minor girl in the the information given to police.A bench comprising Justices DY Chandrachud, AS Bopanna and JB Pardiwala called for a harmonious reading of the...

The Supreme Court on Wednesday read down the mandatory police reporting requirement under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act to hold that a doctor need not disclose the name and identity of the minor girl in the the information given to police.

A bench comprising Justices DY Chandrachud, AS Bopanna and JB Pardiwala called for a harmonious reading of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act and the POCSO Act and held that a registered medical practitioner was exempt from disclosing the identity and other personal details of a minor in the information provided under Section 19 of the POCSO Act.

For context, Section 19 of the POCSO Act, 2012 makes it mandatory for any person including the child to approach the police in case of the said person has an apprehension that an offence under the Act is likely to be committed or has the knowledge that such an act has been committed. The information is required to be provided to the Special Juvenile Unit or the local police. A person who fails to report the offence can be punished with a maximum imprisonment of six months or with fine or both under Section 21 of the POCSO Act. 

The court was pronouncing a judgement stating that unmarried women are also entitled to seek abortion of pregnancy in the term of 20-24 weeks arising out of a consensual relationship (X vs Principal Secretary, Health and Family Welfare Department, Govt of NCT Of Delhi, C.A 5802/2022).

Rule 3B(b) of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Rules allow minors to seek abortion of pregnancy of the term 20-24 weeks.

Court takes note of pregnancies arising out of teenage relationships

The Court took note of the fact that adolescents do engage in sexual activities, although the POCSO Act does not recognize consent.

"Under the POCSO Act, factual consent in a relationship between minors is immaterial. The proscription contained in the POCSO Act does not – in actuality – prevent adolescents from engaging in consensual sexual activity. We cannot disregard the truth that such activity continues to take place and sometimes leads to consequences such as pregnancy". 

"The absence of sexual health education in the country means that most adolescents are unaware of how the reproductive system functions as well as how contraceptive devices and methods may be deployed to prevent pregnancies. The taboos surrounding pre-marital sex prevent young adults from attempting to access contraceptives. The same taboos mean that young girls who have discovered the fact that they are pregnant are hesitant to reveal this to their parents or guardians, who play a crucial role in accessing medical assistance and intervention", the judgment added.

POCSO vs MTP Act : Concerns Raised About Mandatory Police Reporting Requirement In Teenage Pregnancies

Mandatory disclosure requirement could deter minors from approaching qualified doctors

The Court noted that an adolescent and her guardian may be wary of the mandatory reporting requirement as they may not want to entangle themselves with the legal process.  This can make them approach an unqualified doctor for a medical termination of the pregnancy.

"If there is an insistence on the disclosure of the name of the minor in the report under Section 19(1) of POCSO, minors may be less likely to seek out Registered Medical Practitioners(RMPs) for safe termination of their pregnancies under the MTP Act", the Court observed.

In the context of medical termination of pregnancy for minors, the bench led by Justice DY Chandrachud opined–

"To ensure that the benefit of Rule 3B(b) is extended to all women under 18 years of age who engage in consensual sexual activity, it is necessary to harmoniously read both the POCSO Act and the MTP Act. For the limited purposes of providing medical termination of pregnancy in terms of the MTP Act, we clarify that the RMP, only on request of the minor and the guardian of the minor, need not disclose the identity and other personal details of the minor in the information provided under Section 19(1) of the POCSO Act. The RMP who has provided information under Section 19(1) of the POCSO Act (in reference to a minor seeking medical termination of a pregnancy under the MTP Act) is also exempt from disclosing the minor's identity in any criminal proceedings which may follow from the RMP's report under Section 19(1) of the POCSO Act. Such an interpretation would prevent any conflict between the statutory obligation of the RMP to mandatorily report the offence under the POCSO Act and the rights of privacy and reproductive autonomy of the minor under Article 21 of the Constitution. It could not possibly be the legislature's intent to deprive minors of safe abortions".(Para 81)

The bench stated that it was important for RMPs to be exempted from disclosing the identity of the minor as–

"Such an interpretation would prevent any conflict between the statutory obligations of the RMP to mandatorily report the offence under the POCSO Act and the rights of privacy and reproductive autonomy of the minor under Article 21 of the Constitution. It could not possibly be the legislation's intent to deprive the minor of safe abortion."

"As opposed to consensual sexual activity among adolescents, minors are often subjected to sexual abuse by strangers or family members. In such cases, minor girls may (due to their tender age) be unaware of the nature of abuse the abuser or rapist is subjecting them to. In such cases, the guardian of minor girls may belatedly discover the fact of the pregnancy, necessitating the leeway granted by Rule 3B". 

A detailed report on other facets of the judgement can be read here and here.

Case Title: X vs Principal Secretary, Health and Family Welfare Department, Govt of NCT Of Delhi, C.A 5802/2022

Citation : 2022 LiveLaw (SC) 809

Click here to read/download the judgment


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