Term all sexual acts with minors child abuse, says House panel

TNN | Dec 22, 2011, 05.31 AM IST

NEW DELHI: A parliamentary panel has recommended waiving the provision of "age of consent'' in cases of sexual assault, observing that any sexual act below the age of 18 years should be seen as child abuse. This recommendation is a departure from Centre's view that in view of social realities, consensual action by children aged 16-18 years shouldn't be criminalized. 

"The committee believes that since the age of child is specified as 18 years, the element of consent should be treated as irrelevant up to this age… in consonance with the country's commitment towards UN convention on the rights of children and the Juvenile Justice Act,'' the report said. 

The report by the parliamentary standing committee on HRD, examining the protection of children from sexual offences bill 2011, was tabled in RS on Wednesday. The women and child development ministry and the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights argued that there was no contradiction in the definition of child and the age of consent (that is 16 years) as the age of consent was kept in consonance with IPC sections 375 and 377. 

Another justification was that the emerging social reality was that there was greater awareness, understanding and exposure in adolescents that could not be overlooked and it would be detrimental to criminalize consensual action by children 16 to 18 years of age. 

The bill seeks to protect children from offences like sexual assault, sexual harassment and pornography. The committee, underlining the need for a legislation, stressed that amendments in the definition and procedure were required besides increasing awareness. 

The committee, headed by Congress MP Oscar Fernandes, said it felt that protection of children from sexual offences had to be seen from a wider perspective, and confining it to confirmation of a sexual offence by levying of punishment through special courts was "simply ignoring" the welfare of the child. 

The bill defines any person below 18 as "child" and seeks to penalise any person who commits offences such as sexual harassment, sexual assault, penetrative sexual assault and aggravated penetrative sexual assault. 

It also recommended that strong protective measures are imbibed in the bill to the extent possible if need arises, in the rules and guidelines to be made to prevent instances of sexual offences against children. The bill says a person commits sexual harassment if he uses words or shows body parts to a child with sexual intent, shows pornography to a child or threatens to depict a child involved in sexual act through the media. 

The penalty is imprisonment for up to three years and a fine. The report has recommended waiver of penalty for false complaints.