The Karnataka High Court has directed the Law Commission of India to reconsider the age of consent in the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. In the judgement passed on November 5, a division bench of Justices Suraj Govindaraj and G Basavaraja said, “Having come across several cases relating to minor girls above 16 years having fallen in love and eloped and in the meantime, having had sexual intercourse with the boy, we are of the considered opinion that the Law Commission of India would have to rethink on the age criteria, so as to take into consideration the ground realities.” The court heard an appeal by the police challenging the acquittal of a POCSO accused. It found that the girl, then 17, had eloped with the boy in 2017. Though the girl’s parents had filed the complaint, all the witnesses turned hostile. While the case continued, the two married and now have two children. Confirming his acquittal, the court however gave directions to the Law Commission as well as the Education Department in Karnataka.
The HC said that it was a lack of awareness of POCSO and IPC that is resulting in many offences being committed by young persons. “It is also seen that many of the above offences are deemed offences to have been committed as a result of or on account of lack of knowledge on the part of the minor girl and the boy. Many a time the boy and girl involved are either closely related or very well known to each other being classmates or otherwise,” the court observed.
Though a lack of knowledge of the law is not an excuse for committing a crime, the HC said students should be made aware of the POCSO Act. “It is required that students especially at least of IX standard onwards, are educated on the aspects of POCSO Act, the acts which are criminalized under the POCSO Act as also under the Indian Penal Code,” it said.
Therefore, the Principal Secretary of the Education Department was directed to constitute a committee to formulate suitable educational material in relation to the above and thereafter issue necessary directions to all schools be it government or private, stating that such students are to be educated and forewarned of the consequences of their action, if in violation of the POCSO Act or the IPC.” The case was relisted for December 5 for the Department to file a compliance report.