The Supreme Court recently reversed a Bombay High Court ruling, stating that skin-to-skin contact is unnecessary for sexual assault under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. The high court's Nagpur bench acquitted a man accused of sexual assault because groping a child with clothes does not amount to child abuse.
A bench headed by Justice UU Lalit, constituting of Justices Ravindra Bhat and Bela M Trivedi, emphasised the presence of sexual intent. Restricting Section 7 of the POCSO Act about "physical contact" to just "skin-to-skin" contact will take away the legislation's purpose to protect children in the country.
'Sets A Dangerous Precedent'
The case was from December 2016, when a 39-year-old man lured a 12-year-old girl into his house. The High Court ruled that fishing without any skin-to-skin contact is not sexual assault under POCSO. It only constituted Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), outraging a woman's modesty. The judgment reversed a lower court's ruling about the same.
The petition was filed against the ruling by National Commission for Women, Attorney General KK Venugopal and the State of Maharashtra. "We have held that when the legislature has expressed clear intention, the courts cannot create ambiguity in the provision. It is right that courts cannot be overzealous in creating ambiguity," Indian Express quoted the apex court.
The bench noted that the High Court ruling is "insensitively trivialised, legitimised and normalised behaviour which undermines the dignity of children."
The Attorney General slammed the ruling, stating that it sets a dangerous precedent. "If tomorrow, a person wears a pair of surgical gloves and feels the entire body of a woman, he won't be punished for sexual assault as per this judgment. The judge didn't see the far-reaching consequences," he said. Further, he added that any ambiguous interpretation could prove to be detrimental to society.