The Supreme Court has agreed to hear an NGO’s plea to lower the age of consent because it endangers the interests of many child victims of sexual abuse, especially girls.
Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and Justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Mishra issued a notice to the Center and tagged the ‘Bachpan Bachao Andolan’ plea on a pending petition which was filed by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR).
The NCPCR challenged the order of the Punjab and Haryana High Court which last year said that a minor Muslim girl can marry a person of her choice.
On Friday, the Supreme Court sought the Centre’s response on the issue.
Besides seeking a slew of directions and guidelines, the NGO’s plea also asked for a directive to the courts for abstaining from making remarks regarding the minor victim’s casual relationship and promiscuous attitude while dealing with the criminal proceedings under the POCSO Act.
It has asserted that the dissemination of misinterpreted information pertaining to POCSO cases (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012) as “elopement and romantic relationships” has undermined the purpose of the rigid legislation.
Additionally, it challenged the circular issued by the Director General of Police, Tamil Nadu on 3 December 2022, which directed police officers not to arrest those accused in mutual romance cases, thus claiming that most of them are under “mutual romantic relationships” category.
The NGO also emphasised that despite official facts and data, various NGOs, governments, and/or law enforcement authorities have relied on flawed methodologies and have been interpreted incorrectly due to which 60 to 70 percent of POCSO cases are pertaining to consenting minors and fall under the category of “consensual romantic relationship” between teenagers that often get criminalised.
The organisation has further claimed that according to a survey conducted by support persons, only 13 per cent of the total POCSO Cases are alleged to be consensual in nature.
Last year on October 17, the Supreme Court agreed to examine a plea of the NCPCR that challenged the Punjab and Haryana High Court’s order of June 13, 2022 that a minor Muslim girl can marry a person of her choice. Advocate Rajshekhar Rao was appointed by the court as amicus curiae in the matter and said that it would not interfere with the high court’s order but would examine the question of law involved in the issue.
However, on January 13, it ordered that the final judgement of the High Court dated September 30, 2022, should not be relied on as a precedent in any other case.
Numerous other petitions have been filed on the same issue regarding the age of consent, which have been tagged along with the NCPCR’s plea.
On June 13, the single-judge bench of the high court passed the order last year on a plea by a Pathankot-based Muslim couple who approached the court for protection.
The high court said that in the case, the issue for consideration was not with regard to the validity of the marriage but for addressing the apprehension raised by the petitioners of danger to their life and liberty.
It instructed the Senior Superintendent of Police, Pathankot for deciding the representation of the petitioners and taking necessary action according to the law.