Monday, April 19, 2021

POCSO Act never intended to treat adolescent boy as offender: Madras HC

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The Madras High Court has said the POCSO Act does not intend to punish an adolescent boy for entering into a relationship with a minor girl and batted for parental and societal support for the couple “in the grips of biological changes.”

Justice N Anand Venkatesh observed that while the Act was brought in to protect children from sexual offences, 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 while quashing criminal proceedings against an autorickshaw driver facing charges under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act for marrying a minor.

“The scheme of the Act clearly shows that it did not intend to bring within its scope or ambit, cases of the nature where adolescents or teenagers involved in romantic relationships are concerned,” the judge said.

He observed that the provisions of the POCSO Act, as it stands today, would surely make the acts of the boy an offence due to its stringent nature. 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 POCSO Act, he said.

“An adolescent boy and girl who are in the grips of their hormones and biological changes and whose decision-making ability is yet to fully develop, should essentially receive the support and guidance of their parents and the society at large,” the court observed.

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. Referring to the victim girl’s earlier statement, he said 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.”

With the parents of the girl or the family subsequently lodging a complaint, the accused is booked under the POCSO Act, the judge said. 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.”

The judge said 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 offences 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”. Regarding the present case, the court said “the offences are purely individual/personal in nature” and involved the persons concerned and their families only.

The court said the second respondent was working as an autorickshaw driver to eke out his livelihood and quashing the proceedings would not affect any 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.

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