The latest cases under Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, involving the death of a minor girl in Jharkhand’s Dumka after being set on fire and the Karnataka seer accused of sexually assaulting minor girls, have sparked massive uproar.
While Shivamurthy Murugha Sharanaru, the chief pontiff of Murugha Mutt in Karnataka, has been booked under POCSO for alleged sexual abuse of high school girls, sections of the Act were added in the Dumka girl death case after she was found to be minor.
These recent cases, though not the only ones, bring to light the latest report released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) that shows that of the 1,49,404 cases of crime against children registered in 2021, over 53,000 (36.05 per cent) were under POCSO.
A Third of Crimes Against Kids Registered Under POCSO: NRCB DATA
As per figures in the latest NCRB report 53,874 of the total 1,49,404 cases of crime against children registered in 2021 were under the POCSO, with a steady increase in the rate in both boys and girls.
In 2020, out of the total 1,28,531 cases of crimes against children, 47,221 were registered under POCSO, while in 2019, a total 47,335 of 1,48,185 such cases were under this Act.
The NCRB data shows an increase in the rate (incidents per 1 lakh children) as compared to 2020 and 2019: 12.1 in 2021 (53,276 girls, 1,083 boys) and 10.6 in both 2020 and 2019.
At 7,129, the largest number of cases registered under POCSO in 2021 are in UP, followed by Maharashtra at 6,200, Madhya Pradesh at 6,070, Tamil Nadu at 4,465 and Karnataka with 2,813 cases.
What is POCSO
POCSO came into effect from November 14, 2012, with an aim of protecting children from a slew of sexual offences like sexual assault, sexual harassment and pornography while safeguarding the interests of the child at every stage of the judicial process by introducing a child-friendly mechanism for reporting, recording of evidence, investigation and speedy trial of offences through special courts.
This law defines a child as any person below the age of 18 years and also defines different forms of sexual offences including penetrative and non-penetrative assault, sexual harassment and pornography.
POCSO prescribes stringent punishment as per the gravity of the offence with the maximum term being rigorous imprisonment for life and fine. Indian Penal Code’s (IPC) Section 44 (1) of the special children’s law provides that the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) along with the State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (SCPCR) monitor the implementation of the provisions of the Act.
When Courts Made Controversial Observations on POCSO
The Allahabad High Court last year sparked a row on social media with its observation stating that oral sex with a minor does not come under the ‘aggravated sexual assault’ category under POCSO.
Allahabad HC’s observation received backlash on social media with users pointing out the Supreme Court’s earlier order which stated that ‘skin-to-skin’ contact was not necessary for the offence of sexual assault under POCSO Act.
Allahabad High Court had made the observation while reducing the jail term of a man convicted of sexually assaulting a 10-year-old boy.
Not many days before this happened, the Supreme Court had ruled that “skin to skin" contact is not necessary for a crime to be considered under POCSO. The top court called it a “narrow interpretation of the law" and set aside a Bombay High Court judgement that had acquitted a man saying, “groping a minor’s breast without ‘skin to skin contact’ can’t be termed as sexual assault under POCSO".
Pointing out that the objective of POCSO is to protect children from sexual abuse, the apex court said that physical contact made with sexual intent comes under POCSO, and “skin to skin" contact is not the criteria.
Recent Cases in Karnataka and Jharkhand’s Dumka
A prominent seer in Karnataka booked under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) for allegedly sexually assaulting minor girls.
Karnataka’s Chitradurga police began an investigation into the POCSO case registered against the chief pontiff of the Murugha Mutt, Dr Shivamurthy Murugha Sharanaru, along with four others after an FIR was registered based on the complaint by an officer of the District Child Protection Unit.
Two girls had approached a non-governmental organisation in Mysuru and narrated the alleged abuse following which it approached the authorities and the case was registered by the police.
In the Dumka case, a girl died after being set on fire by a man for not reciprocating his overtures on August 23.
The accused Shahrukh allegedly poured petrol on the Class 12 girl from outside the window of her room when she was sleeping and set her on fire. The minor girl was admitted to a hospital with 90 per cent burns. She died on Sunday, August 28.
Earlier, the deceased’s age was mentioned as 19 years in her recorded statement by the police which was later corrected to 15. The Child Welfare Committee (CWC) had then recommended SP to add sections under POCSO Act in the matter.
Sections of POCSO were added to the case on Thursday, September 1.