NEW DELHI: In what is seen as a stepped up effort to crack down on child abuse, the Union Cabinet on Friday approved a set of changes in the law that will make aggravated penetrative sexual assaults during communal and sectarian violence or in the midst or aftermath of a natural calamity punishable with minimum of 20 years extending upto life imprisonment or even death.
The amendments to the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, set out a minimum 20 years imprisonment for “aggravated penetrative sexual assault” which includes assault on a child below 12 years.
The significance in the changes adopted by the Cabinet lies in list of crime situations that fall in this category is that it will, in a first, include a person who takes advantage of a child in a situation of natural calamity to commit an sexual assault or causes the death of the victim.
Going by the existing list under this provision, the enhanced punishment will apply to crimes committed on a child in communal and sectarian violence, an assault that leaves a child physically incapacitated, mentally ill, affected by HIV, disabled or pregnant. And the punishment may extend to life and even death penalty.
The amendments, piloted by the WCD ministry, will now need to go to Parliament to become law.
Aggravated penetrative sexual assaults as of now invite a punishment of not less than 10 years that may extend to life along with fine. The enhanced punishment will also apply to any police officer who commits penetrative sexual assault on a child in police station premises, in the course of his duty or otherwise. As per the law members of the armed forces, security forces, public servants and management and staff of jails, remand homes and protection homes guilty of such crimes will be up for the enhanced punishment.
Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the amendments are required to “deter the rising trend of child sex abuse in the country”.
On why natural calamity situations have been included, the government has argued that children are often the worst affected by disasters.
It is pointed that in the three months following the earthquake in Nepal in 2015, 513 children and women at the risk of being trafficked were intercepted.
There were also reports of rape of young girls including a Kedarnath deluge survivor.
To check sexual exploitation, administration of hormones to a child to induce sexual maturity to enable sexual activity has been included in the separate “aggravated sexual assault category” which will invite a jail term upto three years and fine.
Possession and circulation of pornographic material involving a child for commericial purpose will invite not less than three years in jail that may extend to five and can go up to seven years if convicted the second time.
In the backdrop of a spate of cases of sexual abuse emanating from children homes the aggravated sexual assault cateogry is being amended. The current provision calls for punishment for whoever on the management or on the staff of a jail, remand home commits sexual assault on a child. This will now be amended to include “or causes sexual assault by giving or receiving any payment or benefits to the child or to any other person exercising control over the child”
The amendments approved by the Cabinet will enable gender neutral implemention of the punishment provisions in line with the criminal law amendment Act, 2013, that applies to rape crimes with upto death for cases involving a girl child below 12 years. The changes were a fallout of a public outcry for stricter action after the Kathua and Unnao rape cases where the victims were minors.
The government’s justification for a change in provision is that media reports and complaints have revealed that children are being subjected to various kinds of sexual abuse and exploitation by making payments to children themselves, parents or guardians, or other people in whose custody the child is kept.
In a recent judgement in the matter of Apna Ghar, a shelter home in Haryana, the CBI judge found the woman, who ran the shelter home, her relatives and staff, guilty of such crimes.