The New Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (PCSOA)

Radical provisions of the new Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (PCSOA) are both empowering and threatening to teenagers accustomed to mixing freely with others. The cause for concern goes beyond PCSOA criminalizing teenage sex by increasing the age of consent from 16 to 18. Teenagers would do well to know how this 'child-friendly' law could affect their lives, for better or for worse, and how different it is from the corresponding IPC provisions dealing with adults.

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Rape is gender neutral for juveniles
Under IPC enacted in 1860, "A man is said to commit rape." But under PCSOA, "A person is said to commit penetrative sexual assault." This means that when it comes to adults, only women can be raped. PCSOA for the first time recognizes the possibility of a boy being raped by a girl or a woman

Definition of "penetration" has been expanded
In IPC's conception of rape, penetration is a necessary condition and it has been traditionally limited to penile vaginal intercourse. In the corresponding provision of PCSOA, the penile penetration need not be only of the vagina; it can be of the mouth, urethra or anus of the child. It also covers situations where the offender "inserts, to any extent, any object or a part of the body, not being the penis, into the vagina, urethra or anus of the child" . Equally unprecedented is the stipulation that oral sex with anybody below 18 would be treated as rape

Penalty for molestation of a child enhanced
Under IPC, any man who outrages the modesty of a woman is liable to be punished with a maximum imprisonment of two years. As a result of the public outrage over the Ruchika Girhotra case, PCSOA stipulates that any adult who molests a child shall be awarded sentences ranging from three to five years

No close-in-age reprieve for statutory rape
While increasing the age of consent from 16 to 18, PCSOA failed to provide the safeguard adopted in liberal societies of taking a lenient view of consensual sex with a minor if the age gap between the partners is within three years. The absence of such a safeguard can have draconian implications for hormonally driven teenagers

Burden of proof on the accused, not the victim
Doing away with the presumption of innocence, PCSOA states that for sexual offences committed against children, the burden of proof shall be on the accused rather than the victim. This opens up scope for abuse: for, even if the accused is a minor, the defence case will always have to be presented first during the trial

False complaint by a child not punishable
If an adult makes false allegations against somebody of committing a child sexual offence, such a person would be punished under PCSOA with imprisonment up to six months. But PCSOA exempts a child from such a liability. "Where a false complaint has been made or false information has been provided by a child, no punishment shall be imposed on such child." This means that if one teenager makes a false allegation against another, the former is statutorily protected from any liability.
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