The Madras High Court has held that the scheme of The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) “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 was hearing a petition seeking to quash the proceedings against a young man in his twenties, booked under POCSO for having eloped with a girl, to marry her and consummate the relationship.
Justice Anand Venkatesh noted that many parents and family members have been filing false POCSO cases against adolescents and teenagers involved in romantic relationships but clarified that such allegations are not always frivolous and it depends on the facts and circumstances of each case. The court observed, “….Nor is this Court scientifically justifying in toto, the genuineness or predicament of the accused in every case where it appears that the accused and victim child have been in a romantic relationship. That will depend on the facts and circumstances of each and every case.”
The High Court observed that the stringent provisions in the POCSO Act invariably affects boys and that “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.” Justice Venkatesh added, “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. 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.”
As serious as the charges under POCSO can be, the Single-judge Bench observed the possibility of the legislation’s misuse. “There can be no second thought as to the seriousness of offences under the POCSO Act and the object it seeks to achieve….. 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”, he said.
The judge also emphasised on the importance of romantic relationships and said, “Adolescence is associated with many psychosocial and developmental challenges, including the processing of intense emotions and “first loves”. (Arnett J.J. Adolescence and Emerging Adulthood. Pearson Education Limited; New York, NY, USA: 2014.) It is now well evidenced that adolescent romance is an important developmental marker for adolescents’ self-identity, functioning and capacity for intimacy.”
In the present petition, the court observed that the petitioner eloped with the woman on the free will of both and that the alleged survivor wanted the proceedings against the man to be quashed. Further, the court also took note of the submission made by the woman’s mother who submitted that she did not want to continue with the proceedings and wanted her daughter to settle down.
The High Court, accordingly quashed the criminal proceedings against the young man who was booked for abduction under the Indian Penal Code, penetrative sexual assault under POCSO Act and Prohibition of the Child Marriage Act, 2006.
The judgment may be read here:
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