The Women and Child Development (WCD) Ministry will seek a change in the CrPC to allow filing of complaints of child sexual abuse many years after the crime. The development came after a meeting last month between WCD minister Maneka Gandhi and a 53-year-old Indian-origin scientist from Canada, a survivor of child sexual abuse, who asked for legislative amendments to allow victims to report such crimes even years later. "We are in the process of writing to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) asking them to amend Section 473 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC). So, time limitation will go away," Secretary, WCD, R K Shrivastava, today said at a press meet. He said that the ministry will pursue the matter with the MHA as it has been receiving "several complaints of incidents that have occurred many years ago". While officials did not comment on the exact amendment being suggested, Gandhi told reporters, "The substance of it will be that if you have been molested at some point in time when you were a minor, then you are still entitled to get justice." She, however, said that there could be a problem revisiting old cases of crime. "Only problem I envisage is that how do you prove it? (But) The best we can hope is that people get frightened that they could land in trouble," Gandhi said. The WCD ministry has also instructed the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) to look into the issue. Section 468 of the CrPC lays down time limitations for filing a complaint after an offence has taken place, also called the Statute of Limitations. If the offence is punishable with a fine then it needs to be reported within six months.
A crime carrying a term not exceeding one year has a period of limitation of a year. If a crime is punishable between one and three years, then it has to be reported within three years and for anything beyond a three-year jail term, there is no time restriction for reporting the crime. Section 473 of the CrPC, to which the ministry has sought changes, allows a court to take cognisance of an offence even after the expiry of the period of limitation provided "the delay has been properly explained or that it is necessary to do so in the interests of justice." The 53-year-old scientist was subjected to sexual abuse for seven years between the age of six and 13 years. The Prevention of Child Sexual Offence Act (POCSO), 2012, is unclear on whether a survivor of child sexual abuse can report the crime after the age of 18 years. Moreover, the POCSO cannot be applied retrospectively to cases prior to its enactment in 2012 and such cases fall under the provisions of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). When it comes to punishment for rape (IPC's section 376), there is no statute of limitations. However, it was only after the Criminal Amendment Act of 2013, that the definition of rape was expanded to include forced digital penetration and oral sex (both common in child sexual abuse). Until then, these crimes fell under the molestation law (IPC's section 354) which has a maximum punishment of two years and therefore, unlike penile penetration, has a statute of limitations where by it has to be reported within three years of the offence being committed. While the scientist approached the Chennai police last year to file a complaint, all her efforts came to a nought. She says enabling latter-day reporting can prevent many more children from falling prey to sexual crimes. "Both the policy and the general attitude (of the police) is that you can't file a complaint, if you are an adult survivor. A lot of child abusers are repeat offenders. For me, it is not only a matter of personal justice but also a matter of protecting children of today from repeat molesters," she had told PTI in an interview.