India is home to the largest child population in the world, and almost 42 per cent of its total population is under eighteen years of age. The health and security of the country’s children is integral to any vision for its progress and development. One of the issues marring the vision for the country’s children is the evil of child sexual abuse, and a special law – the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 – was passed by Parliament in May, 2012 to address this issue. The Act received the President’s assent on 19th June 2012 and was notified in the Gazette of India for public information on 20th June, 2012. The Act is to come into force on the 14th of November, 2012, along with the rules framed under the Act.
The Act is gender-neutral and defines a child as any person below the age of eighteen years. It provides precise definitions for different forms of sexual abuse, including penetrative and non-penetrative sexual assault, sexual harassment and pornography. The Act provides for stringent punishment graded as per the gravity of the offence, with a maximum term of rigorous imprisonment for life for certain offences, and fine.
In keeping with the best international child protection standards, the Act provides for mandatory reporting of sexual offences. It also prescribes punishment for a person if he provides false information with the intention to defame any person, including a child. Most importantly, the Act provides for child-friendly procedures for reporting of offences, recording of evidence, investigation and trial.
Under Section 45 of the Act, the power to make rules rests with the Central Government. The rules framed under the Act provide for qualifications and experience of interpreters, translators, special educators, and experts; arrangements for care and protection and emergency medical treatment of the child; compensation payable to a child who has been the victim of a sexual offence; and the manner of periodic monitoring of the provisions of the Act by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights and State Commissions for Protection of Child Rights.
The rules rely on the structures established under the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000, such as Child Welfare Committees and District Child Protection Units, to make arrangements for the care and protection of the child and to ensure that the child is not re-victimised in the course of investigation and trial. They also provide that where a child is taken to a medical facility for emergency medical care, no magisterial requisition or other documentation may be demanded by such facility prior to rendering medical care. The rules also lay down criteria for award of compensation by the Special Court, which includes the gravity of the offence; loss of educational opportunity or employment as a result of the offence; and disability, disease or pregnancy suffered as a consequence of the offence. The compensation may be awarded at the interim stage as well as upon completion of trial.