While highlighting the rampant misuse of the POCSO Act, the Madras High Court has recently held that ‘punishing an adolescent boy who enters into a relationship with a minor girl by treating him as an offender, was never the objective of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act.’
The bench headed by Justice N. Anand Venkatesh quashed the criminal proceedings against an autorickshaw driver who was facing charges under the POCSO Act for marrying a minor. During the hearing, the court observed that while the Act was brought in to protect children from sexual offenses, a large array of cases were arising on the basis of complaints being filed by families of adolescents and teenagers involved in romantic relationships.
Therefore, the “legislature has to keep pace with changing societal needs” and bring amendments to the Act, he said.
Further, the judge observed that the provisions of the POCSO Act, as it stands today, would surely make the acts of the boy an offense, due to its stringent nature. An adolescent boy caught in a situation like this will surely have no defense if the criminal case is taken to its logical end, the judge added.
Therefore, while referring to the earlier statement of the girl victim, the judge said that “she has clearly stated that she was the one who insisted that the 2nd Respondent take her away from her home and marry her due to the pressure exerted by her parents.”
Nonetheless, with the parents of the girl or the family subsequently lodging a complaint, the accused is booked under the POCSO Act.”
Invariably the boy gets arrested and thereafter, “his youthful life comes to a grinding halt.” Such a person who is sent to prison in a case of this nature will be persecuted throughout his life.
“It is high time that the legislature takes into consideration cases of this nature involving adolescents involved in relationships and swiftly bring in necessary amendments under the Act,” asserted the judge while adding that the legislature has to keep pace with the changing societal needs and bring about necessary changes in law and more particularly, in a stringent law like the POCSO Act.
He pointed out at the de facto complainant, mother of the girl, as well as the latter jointly seeking for quashing of the proceedings against the man, also facing charges of kidnap under the IPC, was ‘peculiar’. The mother had insisted that ‘let bygones be bygones’ and had wanted her daughter to settle down, the court observed. The judge said there can be no second thought as to the seriousness of offenses under the POCSO Act and the object it seeks to achieve.
However, it was also imperative for the Court to draw the thin line that demarcates the nature of acts that should not be made to fall within the scope of the Act. “…for such is the severity of the sentences provided under the Act, justifiably so, that if acted upon hastily or irresponsibly, it could lead to irreparable damage to the reputation and livelihood of youth whose actions would have been only innocuous,” he said.
“What came to be a law to protect and render justice to victims and survivors of child abuse, can become a tool in the hands of certain sections of the society to abuse the process of law,” the judge noted. Referring to studies, he said adolescence is associated with many psychosocial and developmental challenges, including the processing of intense emotions and ‘first loves’.
Subsequently, the court said that the second respondent was working as an autorickshaw driver to eke out his livelihood, and quashing the proceedings would not affect an overriding public interest in the case. It would in fact pave the way for both of them to settle down in their life and look for better future prospects, the court added.