Balancing POCSO Act For Ages 16-18: Law Panel Rejects Age Reduction

Explore the Law Commission's nuanced approach for adolescents aged 16-18 under the POCSO Act. Rejecting age reduction, they propose judicial discretion to protect children while ensuring justice

Oshi Saxena
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The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act in India has been a topic of significant debate and discussion in recent times. In the ever-evolving landscape of legislation, the issue of consent, particularly within the age group of 16-18, is a subject that demands meticulous attention and informed discourse


The existing age of consent under the POCSO Act stands at 18 years. However, the Law Commission of India, led by former Karnataka High Court Chief Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi, has proposed a significant change. Instead of altering the age of consent itself, the Commission suggests introducing "guided judicial discretion in the matter of sentencing" for cases involving adolescents aged 16 to 18. As the Commission argues, this approach aims to strike a balance that safeguards the best interests of the child while ensuring justice is served.

The Current Challenge

The POCSO Act, with its stringent provisions, has faced criticism for potentially criminalizing consensual sexual activity among adolescents. Many argue that such activity, driven by curiosity and exploration, should not result in the severe consequences mandated by the Act. The Commission acknowledges the social cost associated with this situation, including the adverse impact on the physical and mental health of adolescents.

Unanimity on the Need for Change

Despite the divergence of opinion on how to address this issue, there is unanimity of thought regarding the Act working against the very children it intends to protect. The Law Commission report acknowledges that the blanket criminalization of sexual activity involving minors, even when consensual, has led to the incarceration of young individuals. This, in turn, diverts the focus of investigating agencies and courts from cases that genuinely require immediate attention.

Proposed Solutions


1. Blanket Reduction of Age of Consent to 16

One option considered was reducing the age of consent to 16 years, aligning it with the situation before the enactment of the  POCSO Act. However, the Commission deemed this approach problematic, as it could lead to unintended consequences, such as making the Act ineffective. Additionally, concerns were raised about the potential misuse of consent as a defence. One of the primary concerns raised by the Law Commission is the potential impact of lowering the age of consent on the issues of child marriage and child trafficking.

It argues that such a move could exacerbate these problems and undermine the fight against them. While emphasizing the need to safeguard the best interests of the child, the Commission highlights the complexity of adolescent love, urging that it cannot always be controlled.

2. Limited Exception for Sexual Relations with Children Above 16

The second proposal was to introduce a limited exception for consensual sexual acts involving adolescents above 16 years of age. However, this, too, raised concerns. The Commission emphasized that the consent of a child should not be treated as valid consent in such cases, as it could expose adolescents to exploitation.

3. Introducing Judicial Discretion in Sentencing: 


The Commission ultimately recommended the introduction of judicial discretion in sentencing for cases involving consensual romantic relationships between adolescents or with an adolescent between the ages of 16 to 18. This approach, it argues, strikes a delicate balance by allowing special courts to exercise discretion when there is factual consent on the part of the child. Importantly, the Commission emphasized the need to guide and limit this discretionary power to prevent potential misuse.

Consultations with Stakeholders

The Commission's report also reveals that comments were sought from the Ministry of Women and Child Development, although no response was received despite reminders. Nevertheless, it's evident from the consultations that there is a wide divergence of opinions on resolving the issue.

The Social Cost

The report underscores the social cost associated with the present situation, particularly the negative impact on the physical and mental health of children. The blanket criminalisation of sexual activity among and with children, though well-intentioned, is leading to the incarceration of young individuals engaged in such activities out of sexual curiosity and exploration that are normative for adolescents.

The proposed changes in the POCSO Act, as suggested by the Law Commission of India, represent a step towards a more balanced and just legal framework. These changes, if implemented thoughtfully, could help in addressing the concerns raised by critics of the Act while continuing to protect the rights and well-being of children and adolescents in India.

It remains to be seen how these recommendations will shape the future of the POCSO Act and its impact on India's legal landscape. This complex issue deserves not only legal scrutiny but also the compassion and understanding required to secure the well-being of our youth.

Suggested reading: POSCO Does Not Exclude Marriage With Minor Under Muslim Law: 10 Things To Know

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