[POCSO Judgment] Romantic Relationship Between A Girl And A Boy, Where The Girl Is 16 Or 17 Years Old Should Not Assume Penal Character: Madras High Court
The Madras High Court has observed that painting a criminal color under Prevention of Child from Sexual Offences Act,2012 in a case where an accused and victim child has been in a romantic relationship results in the arrested accused's youthful life grinding halt.
Single Bench of Justice N.Anand Venkatesh, however, emphasized that "There can be no second thought as to the seriousness of offences under the POCSO Act and the object it seeks to achieve. However, it is also imperative for this Court to draw the thin line that demarcates the nature of acts that should not be made to fall within the scope of the Act, for such is the severity of the sentences provided under the Act, justifiably so, that if acted upon hastily or irresponsibly, it could lead to irreparable damage to the reputation and livelihood of youth whose actions would have been only innocuous. What came to be a law to protect and render justice to victims and survivors of child abuse, can, become a tool in the hands of certain sections of the society to abuse the process of law."
In the present case, the victim girl and the respondent who were in love got married and went away from their respective homes. The victim girl's mother filed a police complaint, which resulted in criminal proceedings against the respondent for the offenses under section 366 of the Indian Penal Code,1860, Section 6 of the Prevention of Child from Sexual Offences Act,2012, and Section 9 of the Prohibition of the Child Marriage Act,2006. However, after some time, the victim girl's mother agreed and expressed her desire to get her daughter married and settled in life. After that, she filed a petition seeking to quash the criminal proceedings pending against the respondent before the Mahila Court, Erode.
The Court, while deciding the matter, relied on Sabari v. Inspector of Police reported in 2019 (3) MLJ Crl 110, which was passed by the Madras High Court in which in detail discussed the cases in which persons of the age group of 16 to 18 years are involved in love affairs and how some cases end up in a criminal case registered for an offense under the Prevention of Child from Sexual Offences Act,2012. The relevant portions of the judgment are:
"21. When this case was taken up for hearing, this Court became concerned about the growing incidence of offenses under the POCSO Act on one side and the Rigorous Imprisonment envisaged in the Act. Sometimes, such offenses are slapped against teenagers, who fall victim to the application of the POCSO Act at a young age without understanding the implication of the severity of the enactment.”
"It is crucial to be aware of adolescence and young adulthood's science and psychology at this juncture. 'This is because social and biological phenomena are widely recognized as determinants of human development, health, and socio-economic attainments across the life course, but our understanding of the underlying pathways and processes remains limited. Therefore, a "biosocial approach," i.e., one that conceptualizes the biological and social as mutually constituting, and draws on models and methods from the biomedical and social/behavioral sciences, is required”, the Court observed.
The Bench ultimately allowed quashing the criminal proceedings and opined that the offenses in question are purely individual/personal as it involves the petitioner, respondent, and their respective families only. It further observed that quashing proceedings would not affect an overriding public interest in this case and that no useful purpose would be served even if the proceedings continue.
Case Title: Vijayalakshmi v. The State rep by The Inspector of Police
Law Point/Statute Involved: Section 366 of the Indian Penal Code,1860, Section 6 of the Prevention of Child from Sexual Offences Act,2012, Section 9 of the Prohibition of the Child Marriage Act,2006 and Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure,1973.