Protecting children

The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Bill,  which has been introduced in the Rajya Sabha, fills a gap in the country’s legal system and addresses a major problem which calls for serious attention. The bill, when passed, will become a comprehensive law to deal with sexual offences against children. At present there is no specific law in this respect. All sexual offences against children are subsumed under crimes like rape and sodomy or outraging the modesty of victims. The specific proposed law focuses on a range of crimes that they are subjected to. This should provide a more effective legal deterrent against such crimes and a better and speedier system for punishing the offenders.

The bill provides for new categories of sexual offences against children which are not covered by present laws. It seeks to protect them against penetrative sexual assault, sexual harassment, pornography, etc and provides for special courts for speedy trial and punishment of offenders. Sexual assault on children will be treated as an aggravated offence when it is committed by a person in a position of trust and authority like an elder relative, public servant, members of security forces or staff of public institutions like schools or children’s homes. Punishment can vary from a minimum of three years to up to 10 years imprisonment or even life term. Sexual assault can also include fondling of a child in an inappropriate way and it can invite a jail term of three years. The setting up of special courts, appointment of special prosecutors and holding trials in a child-friendly environment will ensure speedier justice.

Sexual crimes against children have been increasing in the country and according to the National Crime Records Bureau statistics they increased from 2,265 in 2001 to 5,769 in 2008. The actual numbers must be many times more as a large number gets unreported. In a large number of cases the culprits are persons known to the child and who wield some authority on them. Such abuse inflicts serious damage on the minds of growing children. Enactment of the law is not enough. It should be enforced strictly. It is also important create wide awareness of its provisions.

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