Stringent Punishment To Deter Sexual Offences Against Children

The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) (Amendment) Bill was passed by both houses of parliament and got presidential accent on 5th August, 2019. It aims to combat rising cases of child sex abuse in the country.

Salient Features

Death Penalty: Stringent punishments for crime against minors and proposal of death penalty for the cases of aggravated sexual assault on of minors. It was justified by citing the judgments of the Supreme Court in Machhi Singh (1983) and Devender Pal Singh (2002) in which the court has held that the death penalty can be awarded only in rarest of rare cases. Thus the intention of the Bill is to have a deterrent effect.

  • Wider Definition: The definition of sexual assault has been extended to incorporate cases of administration of hormones and chemical substances to children for early sexual maturity.
  • To Curb Child Pornography: Fines and imprisonment to curb child pornography and proposes to synchronise the POCSO act with the Information Technology Act.
  • Gender Neutral: It is gender neutral and provides for the death penalty for “aggravated penetrative sexual assault of a child”, thus removing the differential treatment for boy and girl child.


  • Inability of stringent punishments in curbing child sexual abuse, for instance after the Nirbhaya case very stringent laws were enacted but they failed to stop the abuse. In fact, the crime rate has escalated.
  • Slow trail and poor conviction rate under POCSO act. Eg. For over one lakh of such offences, trial was completed in around 10,000 cases with a conviction rate of around 30%.
  • Lack of ulilisation of budget allocated fund for the women and child development.
  • The Justice J.S. Verma Committee, which was constituted in 2013 in the aftermath of the Nirbhaya case, after due deliberations found itself against the imposition of death penalty in rape cases.
  • The 262nd Report of the Law Commission of India, 2015, also provides for abolition of the death penalty except in terror cases.
  • The deterrent effect of capital punishment appears to be on the wane. Globally, there is research to support the view that despite stringent punishments, there is no fall in the rate of commission of crimes. Robin Conley in his book, ‘Confronting the Death Penalty’, has observed that the death penalty may seem just and appropriate in abstract but once you are privy to its practicality, it becomes less appealing. Deterrence has its own limitations and it has to be supplemented by exhaustive measures that include an overhaul of the criminal justice administration.
  • Introduction of the death penalty may backfire in cases of child sexual abuse and even have a catastrophic effect. Often, the perpetrators of abuse are family members and having such penalty in the statute book may discourage the registration of the crime itself.
  • Also, it may threaten the life of the minor as the maximum punishment for murder is also the death sentence.

Way Forward

  • State should bear entire expenses of treatment of victims of child sex abuse.
  • Public places and public buildings should have close circuit TV cameras for surveillance.
  • Time-bound investigation and prosecution of child sex abuse cases along with proportionate compensation to the victims.
  • Social audit of shelter homes to avoid incidences like Muzaffarpur, Bihar
  • Organisation of awareness campaigns to highlight issue of child sex abuse and dissemination of information about ‘Good Touch’ and ‘Bad Touch’.
  • Stringent provisions and punishments create loopholes, which are misused to cover up cases of elopement or inter-caste marriages. POCSO act should curb its misuse to avoided harassment of people.
  • Consensual sex, physical contact or allied acts after the age of 16 should be excluded from the POCSO Act, as suggested by Madras High Court.