Cabinet approves tabling Bill afresh in Parliament

The Union Cabinet on Thursday approved tabling afresh in Parliament the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Bill, 2011, which would make sexual contact with a girl below the age of 18 a criminal offence, even if it is consensual. The Bill was tabled in the Lok Sabha in March last year, and sent to the Parliamentary Standing Committee, which suggested some amendments, including making consensual sexual relationship with a girl under 18 a serious, criminal offence, punishable with life imprisonment.

Section Seven of the original draft of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Bill, 2010, did not provide for any punishment if consent for the sexual act was secured from a person aged between 16 and 18.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee suggested that the provisions of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000, on media reporting, be incorporated in the Bill, in addition to making the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights the monitoring authority during trial. The law aims at protecting children against sexual assault, sexual harassment and pornography, and provides for establishment of special courts for trying such offences. It provides for treating sexual assault as an “aggravated offence” when committed by a person in a position of trust or authority, including a member of the security forces, a police officer, a public servant, and a member of the management or staff of a children's home, hospital or educational institution.

The original Bill provided for hefty monetary fines for the offenders, while the revised measure has left the decision on the quantum of fine to court discretion.

The Cabinet, however, referred to a Group of Ministers the Bill on the Protection of Women Against Sexual Harassment at the Workplace, following protests by Cabinet Ministers, as far as its implementation was concerned.

The Bill had included domestic workers, and public and private sector workers — organised or unorganised — on the recommendation of the Parliamentary Standing Committee.