Rajendra Prasad Mohapatra

The Orissa High Court has expressed concerns over the misuse of the provisions of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO Act), especially by way of prosecution of young males in cases of mutual adolescent romantic relationships.

The Single Bench of Justice Sibo Sankar Mishra allowed a batch of petitions praying to quash criminal proceedings under the stringent legislation.

According to Live Law, the bench observed, “The POCSO Act was enacted with the ultimate objective of prohibiting non-consensual and forced sexual relationships with children, including child sexual abuse and sexual harassment. While the stringent provisions of the POCSO Act have contributed positively to reducing instances of sexual violence against children, they have also led to an increase in vindictive litigation, with false cases being filed against individuals under the act. However, it was never the legislature’s intention to prosecute romantic relationships between young adults.”

The Court was in seisin over a batch of petitions filed under Section 482 of the CrPC with prayers to quash FIRs and criminal proceedings under the POCSO Act against a number of persons in different cases of sexual intercourse arising out of adolescent romantic relationships or promises of marriage. In all these cases victims were below the age of majority, i.e. 18 years while the alleged offences were committed.

“The growing instances where teenagers were involved in a romantic relationship with each other falls victim to the offences under the POCSO Act is a matter of concern. The teenage romance often turns into cohabiting consensually and the girl alleges rape due to pressure from the family, fear of the society or when the boy refuses to marry. Since sexual intercourse with a minor is considered ‘statutory rape’, the criminal case is registered,” the bench added.

Taking into account the fact that in all the cases, the parties claimed to have settled the disputes between them and they do not intend to pursue the litigation anymore, Justice Mishra formulated the vital question for consideration as to whether the High Court can quash criminal proceedings, particularly in heinous cases like rape, on the basis of mutual settlement between parties, Live Law reported.

In view of the fact that the victims are not desirous of pursuing the matter further, the possibility of securing a conviction is not only remote but it may adversely affect the mental, emotional, and educational well-being of the victim and the happy conjugal and family life they are leading with perhaps one or more children born out of such union,” the judge said.

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He also said that continuing proceedings for prosecution and punishment may also have an undesired and self-defeating effect of punishing a victim as well, which can go against the objective and purpose of the Act itself.