Madras High Court on Friday observed in a case that the consensual relationships between teenagers aged between 16 and 18 years should not be dealt under Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, and that the legal age of consent should be lowered down to 16 years instead of 18, as it is currently.

“Any consensual sex after the age of 16 or bodily contact or allied acts could be excluded from the rigorous provisions of POCSO Act, and sexual assault could be tried under more liberal provisions which can be introduced in the Act, differentiating sexual assault and teenage relationships,” Justice V Parthiban observed in the case of a minor boy who was punished with 10 years of rigourous imprisonment and a fine by a fast track mahila court in Nammakal, Tamil Nadu, Hindustan Times reported.

Child rights activists believe that while the government is strengthening the law, it must also arduously initiate corrective moral science education, sex education and personal safety education with children across the country. While some say that this order is an appropriate one because children today no longer remain innocent at the age of 16 particularly with the advent of technology, some activists hold the opinion that the age shouldn’t be brought down as children don’t fully understand the repercussions of decisions relating to sex whether consensual or not at that age.

Some cases booked under the POCSO Act that are related to elopement, are actually of consensual nature based on innocent mutual infatuation between the girl and boy. – Sonal Kapoor

CASES SHOULD BE DEALT INDIVIDUALLY

Child rights activist, Sonal Kapoor of Protsahan spoke to SheThePeople.TV and said, “Some cases booked under the POCSO Act that are related to elopement, are actually of consensual nature based on innocent mutual infatuation between the girl and boy.”

She recounted one of the cases in which she was party to, “In one case, we dealt with in the community where we work in Delhi, the girl’s parents had wrongly, criminally framed the boy under POCSO for rigorous imprisonment, when the boy and the girl, both, consensually, only went out together to a coffee shop in broad daylight after their exams got over, and they just happened to be seen together by someone from the neighborhood! It’s only natural that young people will be attracted to each other. But our society’s hypocrisy under the garb of ‘sanskars’ will not allow us to accept that easily.

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It is extremely unfortunate that instead of providing relevant sex education and personal safety education, in families, schools and educational institutions, to our young children, we find it easier to criminally frame them instead.”

CHILDREN GROW UP TOO FAST WITH TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCEMENTS

We as adults should also open our minds and not make a big deal out of consensual friendships among boys and girls. – Taruna Vidhay

Another activist who works with Nirbhed Foundation, Taruna Vidhay, who also deals with children from slum areas, said that the age should be lowered because children at the age of 15-16 are well aware of a great deal of things including drugs, pick pocketing, chain-snatching especially in slums.

“Talking about rigorous punishment, I would say that minors should not be given such punishment however, one should use corrective methods to change the mindset of the child if he/she delves in activities that can appear harmful of others. Secondly we as adults should also open our minds and not make a big deal out of consensual friendships among boys and girls. Often it is the parents of the girls who frame the boy to save their dignity in the neighbourhood. Parents of the girls in many cases coincide the girl with their reputation and hence frame such charges against boys which is completely wrong,” said Vidhay.

WHY CONSENT AGE SHOULD BE 18?

The child may give consent, but he or she must also then know the upshot of it. We are also very worried that serious sections are being imposed on young boys making them vulnerable.- Rishikant

However, Rishikant of Shakti Vahini connects this phenomenon of lowering the age with child labour and keeping that in mind, he stands completely against it. “We have always stood by the argument that 18 has to be the legal age when the consent of child should matter. Rather than making the laws stricter we must reach out to schools and bring about a nuanced change in education. The child may give consent, but he or she must also then know the upshot of it. We are also very worried that serious sections are being imposed on young boys making them vulnerable.”

However one thing all activists agree upon is that we must invest time in educating children about the implications of sexual relationships and how to have a safer one at that.

“Clear distinction and understanding needs to be there between cases of teenage relationships on one hand and cases of sexual assault on young children, on the other. These are two separate matters. The State needs to do more to spread awareness on POCSO. A beginning can be made by making sure the message of POCSO law be displayed before screening films, soap operas on television, that depict teenage relationships,” said Kapoor.

Picture Credit: Deccan Chronicle

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