Upto 7 years jail term for child sexual offenders

New Delhi: A pathbreaking Bill dealing exclusively with sexual offences against children was passed by the Union Cabinet on Thursday providing for a jail term upto seven years and a fine of Rs 50,000 for such crimes.

The Protection of Children Againat Sexual Offences Bill, 2011, also legalised consensual sex with a person aged between 16-18 years.

The new law will cover all new aspects of sexual offences against children not covered elsewhere.

The proposed legislation aims at protecting children against offences of sexual assault, sexual harassment, pornography and provide for establishment of special courts for trial of such offences.

The bill provides for treating sexual assault as "aggravated offence" when it is committed by a person in position of trust or authority over a child including a member of the security forces, police officer, public servant, management or staff of a children`s home, hospital or educational institution.

It will be treated as an aggravated offence where the child victim is below 12 years or has mental or physical disability or the sexual offence causes grievous hurt or injury to the child with long term adverse effect on the child`s mind and body.

The punishment for such an offence would be imprisonment of upto seven years with fine.

The punishment for penetrative sexual assault has been proposed to be at least five years in jail and a minimum fine of Rs 50,000.

Sexual assault also includes fondling the child in an inappropriate way which will invite a penalty of minimum three years in jail.

Section seven of the bill provides for "no punishment" if the consent for sexual act has been obtained with a person aged between 16 to 18 years.

There is a special provision in the bill preventing abuse of children for pornographic purpose or possessing pornographic material involving children.

There will be an obligation on the media, studio and photographic facilities not to report such cases and failure to do so will attract punishment.

The media has been barred from reporting the cases without having complete and authentic information and from disclosing the indentity of the child.

The National Crime Records Bureau data shows that there has been a significant increase in cases of sexual offences against children from 2265 in 2001 to 5749 in 2008.

A study on child abuse conducted by the Women and Child Development Ministry showed that more than 53 per cent of children interviewed reported having faced one or more forms of sexual abuse.

Fifty per cent abusers were persons known to the child or in a position of trust and responsibility, it said.

The bill envisages guidelines for media on reporting that would bar giving details of the victim and accused children`s family or personal details or any form of reporting that can lead to their identification. Besides, it proposes special courts and more sensitive ways in dealing with crimes against children.

In her address to joint sitting of both houses of Parliament at the beginning of the budget session, President Pratibha Patil had mentioned the government`s proposal to introduce the bill.

Congress President Sonia Gandhi was keen to see the bill through and had written to Women and Child Development (WCD) minister Krishna Tirath last year asking her to hasten the pace of the legislation focusing on sexual abuse of children, sources said.

Amid reports of differences between ministries, she as NAC Chairperson had asked the WCD ministry to coordinate with the Law Ministry which had already prepared a draft bill on similar lines.