The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, 2019 was passed by the Parliament.
It defines what ‘child pornography’ is ‘using a child for pornographic purposes’ and for ‘possessing or storing pornography involving a child’ is punishable.
It has also widened the ambit of ‘Aggravated sexual assault’
It introduced the death penalty for the rape of minors
The Bill is gender neutral and provides for the death penalty for “aggravated penetrative sexual assault of a child” and not just a girl child.
The introduction of the death penalty may backfire in cases of child sexual abuse and even have a catastrophic effect. Often, perpetrators of abuse are family members and having such penalties may discourage the registration of the crime itself.
It may threaten the life of the minor as the maximum punishment for murder is also the death sentence.
Justice J.S. Verma Committee was against the imposition of the death penalty in rape cases. The 262nd Report of the Law Commission of India also provides for the abolition of the death penalty except in terror cases.
The death penalty diverts attention from the core issues of infrastructural apathy, procedural lapses and trial delays.
It is the certainty of punishment rather than its severity which has deterrence in real sense.
Even a year-and-a-half after the passage of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2018, which introduced the death penalty for rape of a minor girl, such incidents have not been under check.
Robin Conley in his book, Confronting the Death Penalty, has observed that the death penalty may seem just and appropriate in abstract but once analysed, it is less appealing practically.
Deterrence has to be supplemented by exhaustive measures including an overhaul of the criminal justice administration.
As per Supreme court data, 24,212 FIRs were filed across India this year. According to NCRB data of 2016, the conviction rate in POCSO cases is 29.6% while pendency is as high as 89%. The prescribed time period of two months for trial in such cases is hardly complied with.
Supreme court has recently directed the Central Government to set up special courts in each district having more than 100 pending cases under the Act.