Child sexual abuse has been a hidden problem in India, largely ignored by the people and also the criminal justice system. It was not until recently that child sexual abuse has been acknowledged as a criminal offence. Crimes against children such as child sexual assault (not accounting to rape), exploitation and harassment for pornography were never legally sanctioned.
The Ministry of Women and Child Development started a campaign which led to the enactment of a new legislation called the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) in 2012. Till 2012 the only sexual offences which were recognized by the law were rape, outraging modesty of women and anal sex, homosexuality or bestiality.
According to this act definition of child sexual abuse includes the following: penetrative sexual assault, aggravated penetrative sexual assault, sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, sexual harassment, using child for pornographic purpose and trafficking of children for sexual purposes. This Act also addresses attempts to commit a sexual offence, and the abetment of sexual offences against children.
POCSO does not confine to penetrative sex to penile penetration and rape. Instead, it broadens the offence termed ‘penetrative sexual assault’ and also includes oral sex and insertion of any object into anus, mouth or vagina. This includes sexual assault committed by persons in authority or position of power with respect to a child, committed by persons in a shared household with the child. POCSO is quite modern with respect to many issues, such as, the definition also includes sexual harassment with repeated following, watching or contacting a child either directly, electronically or through other means, covering incidents of child harassment via sexting or sexual cyber bullying.
This act protects children (defined as those below 18 years) from these offences. Setting up of special court, child friendly atmosphere through all stages of the judicial process, from reporting, recording of evidence, investigation, trial in-camera and without revealing the identity of the child.
The punishment prescribed in this act may include a fine, as well as payment of compensation to the child for trauma suffered and for rehabilitation, as necessary; imprisonment for a variable term and can extend up to a maximum of life imprisonment, depending on the gravity of the offence. However, controversial thing is it contains an extraordinary clause (Chapter VII, Clause 29) which states that the accused person is guilty unless proven innocent.
The number of child sexual abuse cases have been increasing rapidly, it is of utmost importance that these laws are taken seriously. Government has made a substantial contribution in educating the people, sensitizing the criminal justice system, and making the reporting of child sexual abuse compulsory. POCSO 2012 has been a positive step and has made a significant contribution to tackling the problem of child sexual abuse in India. It has identified and criminalized a range of unacceptable sexual behaviors that pose a threat to children.