The Supreme Court has initiated an examination into whether teenagers can be punished for consensual sexual relationships under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses (POCSO) Act, 2012.
This move comes in response to a petition in Tamil Nadu filed by an appellant looking to overturn a judgment accusing him of rape for having a sexual relationship with a girl when they were both minors.
The girl had initially filed a case against him in 2019 accusing him of rape and other offenses under Indian Penal Code sections 417, 376, and 312 for rape, cheating, and causing miscarriage, and Sections 5(I) and 6 under the POCSO Act for aggravated penetrative sexual assaults. The accused man denied these allegations and said that the relationship and sexual relations were consensual.
The complainant initially claimed that the accused had entered into a physical relationship with her on the pretext of marrying her but later refused to do so. However, she later changed her stance and admitted that the relationship was consensual and the two involved had no complaints or grievances against one another.
The Madras High Court, however, refused to accept her statement and in 2019, sentenced the accused to 10 years in prison, asked to pay the victim Rs.1 lakh in compensation, and a Rs.5000 fine.
Rahul Shyam Bhandari, the accused man’s advocate, approached the Supreme Court regarding the non-acceptance of the girl’s statement and his client’s sentencing. He argued that both parties were below the age of 18 and were in a consensual relationship, and questioned if this was really grounds for charging someone for committing an offense under the POCSO Act.
The appeal to the bench headed by Justice Indira Banerjee states that the POCSO Act’s objective should not be to punish teenagers and curb their consensual relationships, sexual or otherwise.
This has driven an examination into the Act and possible amendments, if required, in order to maintain focus on child sexual abuse and not use the law to curb adolescents’ sexual freedom.