The Union Cabinet has cleared a proposal to amend the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012 to provide for the death penalty for aggravated penetrative sexual assault on children.
Briefing the media on the decisions taken at the Cabinet meeting held on Thursday, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the Cabinet had cleared far-reaching amendments. "It is a very wholesome initiative by the government to strengthen and enlarge the scope of POCSO.
He said apart from providing for the death penalty in aggravated offences, the amendments also provide for stringent punishment for the offence of administering hormones for making children "artificially major".
The proposed amendments also provide for a jail term for propagating child pornography and fine for not reporting it. The POCSO Act defines a child as any person below eighteen years of age.
Earlier in April, the government had issued an ordinance to provide for the death penalty for those convicted of raping girls below 12 years of age and life term for raping a girl below 16 following the outrage over the rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir and similar crimes in other parts of the country.
"The modification is made to address the need for stringent measures required to deter the rising trend of child sex abuse in the country," an official statement said.
"To discourage the trend of child sexual abuse by acting as a deterrent, Section-4, Section-5 and Section-6 are proposed to be amended to provide option of stringent punishment, including death penalty, for committing aggravated penetrative sexual assault crime on a child, to protect the children from sexual abuse," the statement said.
"The amendments are also proposed in section-9 to protect children from sexual offences in times of natural calamities and disasters and in cases where children are administered, in any way, any hormone or any chemical substance, to attain early sexual maturity for the purpose of penetrative sexual assault," it added.
The government said that amendments to sections 14 and 15 are also proposed to address the menace of child pornography.
"It is proposed to levy fine for not destroying or deleting, or (not) reporting the pornographic material involving a child. The person can be further penalized with jail term or fine or both for transmitting, propagating, administrating such material in any manner except for the purpose of reporting as may be prescribed and for use as evidence in court," it said.
"Penal provisions have been made more stringent for storing or possessing any pornographic material in any form involving a child for commercial purpose."
The government said the amendment is expected to discourage the trend of child sexual abuse by acting as a deterrent due to the strong penal provisions incorporated in the Act.
"It may protect the interest of vulnerable children in times of distress and ensure their safety and dignity," it added.