The POCSO Amendment Bill that proposed death penalty for aggravated penetrative sexual assault and increased minimum punishment unanimously been passed in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday evening.
Among its significant amendments are those made to sections 4, 5 and 6 of the Act. Per the new amendments, aggravated sexual assault and penetrative sexual assault on a child below 16 years of age will be punishable with a minimum sentence of 20 years as opposed to 10 years, which was in the original Act. This can be extended to life imprisonment or capital punishment.
Further, for penetrative sexual assault on a child below 18 years of age, the minimum punishment has been increased from seven to 10 years.
The definition of aggravated sexual assault has been extended to include: assault committed during a natural calamity; and administrating or help in administering any hormone or any chemical substance to a child for the purpose of attaining early sexual maturity.
The amendments to POCSO also increase the punishment for using a child for pornography or child sexual abuse material (CSAM), to a minimum of seven years. Those found in possession of CSAM are liable to a prison term of seven years as well. This could apply to teenagers who are in a relationship, those who have sexted, eloped, or have engaged in sexual acts consensually. The increased punishment, like the original Act, does not take into account that children also have a sexuality, and makes no distinction between consensual acts and sexual assault.
During the debate on the Bill, a TMC MP recounted his own experience of sexual assault he faced on a public bus as a 13-year-old. He urged people to speak up about these experiences. He backed the amendments to the POCSO Act, and was lauded by Women and Child Development Minister Smriti Irani for having the courage to share his story.
The WCD Minister accepted the amendments to POCSO and the Bill was passed.
It is worth mentioning that several child rights activists and civil society workers who have been working with child sexual abuse survivors and their families have been opposing death penalty in POCSO for various reasons. Watch the video below to understand more.