POCSO Act applies to adults

Andhra Pradesh High Court – POCSO Act applies to adults who were minor when incidents took place

In the case of Mondi Murali Krishna vs. Dumpa Hanisha Naga Lakshmi & 3 ors., in its decision dated 7th May 2020, the High Court of Andhra Pradesh held that the Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act, 2012 (“POCSO Act”) will apply to an adult person if instances complained of occurred when they were minor.

The facts of this case are that 3 accused men were acquainted with the minor survivor at the precincts of the University in which they were all studying in 2014. The survivor had secured a good rank at the competitive examinations which enabled her to be able to study there. The 3 accused were busy coaxing each other into making sexual advances towards the minor survivor in a manner that was utterly disrespectful and grossly violative. There were instances of them touching the survivor on her hands and waist without her consent, making consecutive phone calls to her and asking her to engage with them sexually. The minor survivor would forward her phone calls to her father’s number so as to apprise him of all the harassment meted out to her by them. She also maintained a diary where she wrote in detail of the physical and mental agony that their actions caused to her.

From the Principal of the Institution to the Head of Department, not one person in authority took any action when the survivor and her guardians spoke up about the matter. One of the accused persons was simply ‘instructed to take care’ and the matter ended there.

It was all these events which drove the survivor to die by suicide in 2015. Her father then filed a police complaint under various sections of the Indian Penal Code, Andhra Pradesh Prohibition of Ragging Act and the POCSO Act. The complaint was further presented at the Special POCSO Court, Guntur in Andhra Pradesh.  The investigation revealed that when she died, she was of majority age but when the instances took place, she was of minority age. The learned Judge however returned the charge-sheet and refused to take cognizance of the matter. The reason stated was that the POCSO Act does not apply to adult persons. The survivor’s father filed a revision petition at the Andhra Pradesh High Court.

In 2020, the High Court ordered the lower Court to take cognizance of the matter under the various sections of POCSO and other Acts. The High Court held that this is an instance of ‘total non-application of mind’ of the learned Judge of Special POCSO Court. The incidents of sexual harassment had taken place when the survivor was a minor and there was prima facie evidence that the alleged offences constituted as offences under section 7, 8, 11 and 12 of the POCSO Act and a few others. These sections provide for the offences of sexual assault, sexual harassment and punishments for the same. As per POCSO Act, minor is a person below the age of 18 years. It further held that the Special Court cannot abrogate its lawful duty as that will defeat the very object of the Act and the purpose of establishing the Special Court. It ordered that the matter be disposed of by the Special Court within 6 months.

This case is especially important from the point of view of survivors who were not able to speak about their experiences when they were minors. Research shows that ‘freezing’ is a common response to sexual violation and survivors are not always able to talk about it after. This judgement has set a landmark precedent to remove any legal barriers from obstructing adults to take action for acts of sexual violations that they were subjected to, before they became major persons.

In 2018, the Women and Child Development Minister stated that an amendment in the law is required to recognize complaints made by survivors years later when they are ready to speak up about it.

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