Sangeeth Kurian

Officials object to varying degree of punishment

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Officials of the Social Welfare Department have objected to certain sections in the proposed `Offences against children Act 2006' that aims at protecting children from all forms of sexual abuse, including fondling and exposure to pornographic exhibits.

One of the major objections raised by the officials relates to the award of varying degree of punishment to persons found guilty of abusing children.

As per the draft of the Act, the punishments prescribed are of varying intensity, depending on the age of the child.

For instance, a person who is guilty of sexually abusing a girl above 16 years will get less punishment than that of a person who is found guilty of abusing a girl below 12.

This categorisation of punishment is "highly illogical," said a senior official.

"An abuse is an abuse. It should not be differentiated on the basis of a victim's age," the official said.

The intention of the accused, the circumstances in which the offence is committed, the nature and behaviour of the accused and the gravity of mental agony to the victim are some of the factors to be considered while awarding punishment, they said.

Though the proposed Act prescribes fine and punishment up to seven years for a person who sells or transfers a child to another person, the act is not regarded as an offence if a parent or guardian is forced to sell a child "to prevent its death from starvation".

They point out that the provision is "very vague" and will promote the sale of children especially from the poor and the downtrodden families.

They argue that parents or guardians should not be permitted to sell or transfer the child directly to any person.

Instead, the section should be modified in such a way that the parents or guardians can hand over the child to a competent authority under the Juvenile Justice Act or any institution constituted or recognised under the Act.

Yet another modification has been proposed to the idea of a joint counselling involving the accused as well as the victim. The officials question the benefit of a joint counselling, as there is no room for conciliation or settlement of the accused with the victim.

No purpose will be served by this section. Instead there should be a mandatory provision for counselling services to all the child victims, they said.

The draft of the Act prepared by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, Government of India, will be submitted before Parliament shortly.