The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, 2019

The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, 2019 is a gender neutral legislation which seeks to protect children from sexual offences like child pornography.

The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, 2019 amended the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012.  The Act seeks to protect children from offences such as sexual assault, sexual harassment, and pornography. In order to have speedy disposal of the cases, the government sanctioned 1023 fast track courts, to dispense cases which were pending under POCSO. The said Act is gender-neutral and regards the best interests and welfare of the child as a matter of paramount importance at every stage to ensure the healthy physical, emotional, intellectual and social development of the child.

Following are the main features of the new Bill:
  • Including death penalty for aggravated sexual assault on children, besides providing stringent punishments for other crimes against minors.
  • The proposed changes in the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act also provides for fines and imprisonment to curb child pornography. The Sections 4, 5, 6 of the Act were proposed to be amended to provide the option of stringent punishment, including death penalty, for committing aggravated penetrative sexual assault on a child.
  • The proposed amendments make provisions for enhancement of punishments for various offences, so as to deter the perpetrators and ensure safety, security and dignified childhood for a child.
  • The Bill increased the minimum punishment from ten years to 20 years, and the maximum punishment to death penalty.
  • Under the new rules there is a provision of mandatory police verification of staff in schools and care homes, procedures to report sexual abuse material (pornography), imparting age-appropriate child rights education among others.
Why was the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, 2019 introduced?

The Amendment Bill was passed keeping in mind the following objectives:
  • To stop the rampant sexual abuse of children, by providing a deterrent in the form of strong penal provisions in the Amendment Act.
  • To provide more stringent punishment, including death penalty, for aggravated sexual offences against children.
  • To protect the interests of children who are vulnerable in times of distress, as well ensure their safety and dignity.
  • To establish clarity with respect to different aspects of child abuse and the punishment thereof.
  • To look into the sexual assault of both minor boys and girls; being gender neutral.
  • To provide for stringent punishment for storing and distributing pornographic material and life imprisonment, for using children for pornographic purposes.
  • To establish Special Courts for trial of such offences.
Key Amendments under the Bill:
  • Penetrative sexual assault: Under the Act, a person commits “penetrative sexual assault” if he: (i) penetrates his penis into the vagina, mouth, urethra or anus of a child, or (ii) makes a child do the same, or (iii) inserts any other object into the child’s body, or (iv) applies his mouth to a child’s body parts.  The punishment for such offence is imprisonment between seven years to life, and a fine. 
a) The Bill increased 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.
  • Aggravated penetrative sexual assault: The Act defines certain actions as “aggravated penetrative sexual assault”. These include cases when a police officer, a member of the armed forces, or a public servant commits penetrative sexual assault on a child. It 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.  The Bill adds two more grounds to the definition of aggravated penetrative sexual assault. These include: (i) assault resulting in death of child, and (ii) assault committed during a natural calamity, or in any similar situations of violence. Currently, the punishment for aggravated penetrative sexual assault is imprisonment between 10 years to life, and a fine. 
a) The Bill increased the minimum punishment from ten years to 20 years, and the maximum punishment to death penalty.
  • Aggravated sexual assault: Under the Act, “sexual assault” includes actions where a person touches the vagina, penis, anus or breast of a child with sexual intent without penetration.  “Aggravated sexual assault” includes cases where the offender is a relative of the child, or if the assault injures the sexual organs of the child, among others. 
a) The Bill added two more offences to the definition of aggravated sexual assault.  These include: (i) assault committed during a natural calamity, and (ii) administrating or helping in administering any hormone or any chemical substance, to a child for the purpose of attaining early sexual maturity.
  • Pornographic Purposes: Under the Act, a person is guilty of using a child for pornographic purposes if he uses a child in any form of media for the purpose of sexual gratification. The Act also penalises persons who use children for pornographic purposes resulting in sexual assault. 
a) 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. 
  • Storage of pornographic material: The Act penalises storage of pornographic material for commercial purposes with a punishment of up to three years, or a fine, or both.  The Bill amends this to provide that the punishment can be imprisonment between three to five years, or a fine, or both. 
In addition, the Bill adds two other offences for storage of pornographic material involving children.  These include failing to destroy, or delete, or report pornographic material involving a child, and  transmitting, displaying, distributing such material except for the purpose of reporting it.

Procedure for Reporting a case of Child Sexual Abuse (CSA):

The procedure for reporting a case under Section 19.1 of the POCSO Act is detailed as under:
  • Any person who has apprehension that an offence is likely to be committed or has knowledge that an offence has been committed must bring the incident to the notice of the Special Juvenile Police Unit (SJPU) or the local police.
  • The failure to report such an offence, is punishable with imprisonment of upto six months or fine or both. This penalty is not applicable to a child less than 16 years of age.
  • To make it easy people can call the Childline on 1098 so they can connect you to the police and Child Welfare Committee.
  • The police have to record the report in writing, assign it an entry number, read the report over to the informant for verification and enter it in a book.
  • A FIR must be registered and a copy of the same should be handed over to the informant free of charge.
  • If the case is reported by a child, it should be recorded in a language that the child can understand. However, if the child cannot understand the language, the police must appoint a translator or an interpreter, as required.
The amendment brought about by the 2019 amendments is supposed to bring down child sexual abuse by acting as a deterrent due to strong penal provisions as stated in the amendment. It aims at ensuring the safety and dignity of the innocent children.