Rajya Sabha members support amendments to POCSO Act

Pictorial representation. Photo credit: DH

Cutting across party lines, Rajya Sabha members on Wednesday supported amendments to POCSO Act seeking death penalty for aggravated sexual assault on children besides providing stringent punishments for other crimes against minors.

The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, 2019 was introduced in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday by Women and Child Development Minister Smriti Irani.

Raising to support the bill, Congress leader Vivek K Tankha said, "I welcome the bill. But the stringent provisions are not stopping such incidents."

He said the National Crime Record Bureau has no data on offences against children after 2016.

He highlighted the poor conviction rate under the law and said that out of over one lakh such offences, trial was completed in around 10,000 cases with conviction in 30 per cent cases.

AIADMK leader Vijila Sathyananth also supported the bill and demanded chemical castration of convicts who do such heinous crimes.

She also demanded that the budget allocated by the government under the women and child development be fully utilised as despite making provision of good amounts, the funds remain largely unutilised.

She also demanded that all public buildings should have close circuit TV cameras and the entire expenses on treatment of such victims should be borne by the state.

She said the medical examination of female victims in such cases should be done by lady doctors.

She said the role of mental health professionals is also crucial in such cases.

In an emotionally charged speech, Jaya Bachchan of the Samajwadi Party recalled the Nirbhaya case involving the gangrape-murder of a 23-year-old woman in the national capital in December 2012. She said only amendments will not solve the problem and time-bound investigation was crucial along with prosecution and proportionate compensation. Stating that NCPCR is toothless, she said the government should provide for an independent national children tribunal.

After the Nirbhaya case very stringent laws were made, special funds were allocated but this has not stopped the abuse. In fact, the crime rate has escalated, Bachchan said. "...We are looming on a cultural crisis. If our laws were executed well, the scenario would have been different. There is no fear, no respect amongst the people today for the law enforcement agencies," Bachchan said. She said parents and guardians have the freedom and the right to switch off gadgets like the television on seeing something vulgar. "I feel that punishment should be proportionate without age being the consideration," Bachchan said. Recalling the Nirbhaya case, she said, the youngest member among the group who committed the crime was a minor and they had to wait for years to punish him.

Abir Ranjan Biswas of the All India Trinamool Congress said the Bill does not consider observations made by the Madras High Court suggesting that consensual sex, physical contact or allied acts after the age of 16 be excluded from the POCSO Act. He claimed that POCSO is often misused to cover up cases of elopement or inter-caste marriages, suggesting that the Bill should look into the fact that any harassment under the POCSO should be avoided, calling for attempts to curb misuse.

Janata Dala United's Kahkashan Perween also expressed support for the Bill, saying it is related to the future of children and once its provisions are enforced, stringent punishment will be meted out to convicts. She called for awareness campaigns to reach out to women and suggested that Women and Child Development Minister Smriti Irani discuss with Ministry of Information & Broadcasting introduction of legal advice centered around crimes against women and children at the end of various television serials.

Sarojini Hembram of the BJD supported the Bill and said social media and television were negatively impacting the minds of children. She said school children should be educated on 'good touch, bad touch' and that imparting self-defence training was essential.

Supporting the bill, B Lingaiah Yadav of the TRS highlighted the incidents of rapes against children and low conviction rates. In such cases, he said, capital punishment should be executed in public and not given in jails.

The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, 2019 entails amendments to the POCSO Act by including death penalty for aggravated sexual assault on children, besides providing stringent punishments for other crimes against minors. The proposed changes in the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act also provide for fines and imprisonment to curb child pornography. To combat rising cases of child sex abuse, the Union Cabinet earlier this month approved amendments to strengthen the POCSO Act.

Jharna Das Baidya (CPI-M) said many times victims belonging to poor, dalit, and backward class are not even able to report the matter to police and get FIR done.

Manoj Jha (RJD) there should be a social audit of shelter homes in the backdrop of Muzaffarnagar incident in Bihar. BJP leader Harnath Singh Yadav, Sanjay Raut (SS), TKS Elangovan (DMK), Shamsher Singh Dullo (Cong), Nazir Ahmad Laway (PDP) and Ravi Prakash Verma (SP) also supported the bill.

Senior Congress member Amee Yagnik said the amendments are punishment focused and suggested the bill be sent to a select committee. 

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