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By Aman Kumar

The Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud on Saturday opined that the legislature must address issues related to the age of consent under the POCSO Act, which criminalizes consensual sexual affairs even in ‘romantic’ relationships for those under the age of 18. The remark comes in the backdrop of the recent observation made by several High Courts that an urgent need for legal reform to deal with “romantic cases” involving adolescents.

Recently Madras HC said that the Court is “eagerly” waiting for an amendment in the law to appropriately deal with cases involving relationships of adolescents. The Karnataka high court also in November told the Law Commission of India to reconsider the age of consent in the Act.

What do Stats Say?

Recently a study carried out by Enfold Proactive Health Trust, Bengaluru, said that 93.8% of “romantic cases” tried under POCSO ended in acquittal after consuming a median time of 1.4 to 2.3 years from the logging of a First Information Report (FIR) to disposal by courts.

A similar study in 2018 by the Centre for the Child and the Law at the National Law School of India University (CCL-NLSIU) revealed that romantic cases constituted 21.2% of cases in Andhra Pradesh, 15.6% in Assam, 21.5% in Delhi, 21.8% in three districts of Karnataka, and 20.5% in Maharashtra.

Concerns Behind Reducing The Age Limit

Although the consent of adolescents (higher in age) matters a lot but they are not mature enough to take a complete and right decision on their own. And also they are neither educated nor aware of the complications of their sexual relationship. Furthermore, the issue of child trafficking will also become a problem if the age is reduced. There is a possibility that child marriages may also increase.

What Is Way Forward?

As the CJI said that “the first is the stereotype that only the girl child is likely to be sexually abused and the second is that the wrongdoer is always a stranger”. This mentality needs to be changed because research has repeatedly demonstrated both girls and boys are at equal risk for sexual abuse and that the perpetrator is known to the victim in an overwhelming number of cases and in many cases an immediate family member, caretaker, or neighbor. Hence there is a compelling need for law reform to revise the age of consent and prevent the criminalization of older adolescents engaging in consensual and non-exploitative acts. Because it really poses a difficult question for judges across the spectrum. If they just follow the laws then it is an injustice to the boy and if they follow the path of justice, then it violates the law.

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