The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO Act) does not intend to bring within its scope, cases involving adolescent teenagers in romantic relationships, Madras High Court recently said while quashing a POCSO case lodged against a man in his early twenties for having eloped with a teenage girl and consummated the relationship.
The case at hand involved charges levelled under the POCSO Act and the Prohibition of the Child Marriage Act, 2006. Justice N Anand Venkatesh quashed the case after a petition was preferred jointly by the victim girl and the de facto complainant under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC).
Pertinently, Justice Venkatesh observed that many POCSO cases are being filed by families of adolescents and teenagers involved in romantic relationships with each other.
The judge proceeded to opine that the scheme of the POCSO Act clearly shows that “it did not intend to bring within its scope or ambit, cases of the nature where adolescents or teenagers involved in romantic relationships are concerned.”
The Court further said punishing an adolescent boy who enters into a relationship with a minor girl by treating him as an offender, was never the objective of the POCSO Act.
“An adolescent boy and girl who are in the grips of their hormones and biological changes and whose decision-making ability is yet to fully develop, should essentially receive the support and guidance of their parents and the society at large. These incidents should never be perceived from an adult’s point of view and such an understanding will in fact lead to lack of empathy. An adolescent boy who is sent to prison in a case of this nature will be persecuted throughout his life.”
There can be no second thought that the offences under the POCSO Act are serious, the Judge clarified. All the same, Justice Venkatesh expressed concerns that the law is being misused by certain sections.
When criminal cases are booked under the POCSO Act thus, invariably the boy is arrested and his youthful life comes to a grinding halt, the Court observed.
“What came to be a law to protect and render justice to victims and survivors of child abuse, can, become a tool in the hands of certain sections of the society to abuse the process of law… incidents, where teenagers and young adults fall victim to offences under the POCSO Act being slapped against them without understanding the implication of the severity of the enactment, is an issue that brings much concern to the conscience of this Court,” the order said.
The Court also deliberated in some detail on the significance of adolescence in terms of the formation of self-identity, remarking in the passing that,
“It is only relatively recently that neurobiologists have started to probe into the neural basis of one of the most powerful and exhilarating states known to humans, namely love.. It is now well evidenced that adolescent romance is an important developmental marker for adolescents’ self-identity, functioning and capacity for intimacy.”
The Court went on to urge the legislature to make appropriate changes in law so that adolescent relationships are treated differently under the prevailing law.
“It is high time that the legislature takes into consideration cases of this nature involving adolescents involved in relationships and swiftly bring in necessary amendments under the Act. The legislature has to keep pace with the changing societal needs and bring about necessary changes in law and more particularly in a stringent law such as the POCSO Act,” the order said.
In this regard, it was also observed that another single judge in the Madras High Court had made allied observations in the case of Sabari v. Inspector of Police, wherein the Court had recommended that the “definition of ‘Child’ under Section 2(d) of the POCSO Act can be redefined as 16 instead of 18.”
Justice Venkatesh clarified that the Court is not turning a blind eye to cases where the victim or survivor may reconcile with their trauma by blaming themselves or lead themselves to believe the relationship is consensual when it is not. Such aspects would depend on the facts of each case, the Court said.
In the present case, however, the Court pointed out that the victim girl had told the Court personally that she was in a love affair with the accused. The Court noted the accused man’s submission that he had eloped with the victim girl upon her urging.
Further, both parents of the girl expressed that they did not wish to pursue the criminal charges, and preferred that their daughter get married and settled in life.
In this backdrop, the Court quashed the case while also opining that the matter was individual and personal in nature.
“No useful purpose will be served in continuing with the criminal proceedings and keeping these proceedings pending will only swell the mental agony of the victim girl and her mother and not to forget the 2nd Respondent as well,” the Court concluded.