Chief Justice of the Meghalaya High Court Sanjib Banerjee has emphasised that “being in love” is never acceptable as a ground to have sex with a minor person under the POCSO Act, 2012 which forbids sex with a minor.
POCSO defines ‘minor’ as anyone under the age of 18 years. There’s no way around this and one has to be strict about this, he said.
Justice Banerjee was addressing the State level consultation on “Effective Implementation of POCSO Act 2012: Reflection on progress, challenges, opportunities and way forward” held in Yojana Bhavan, Main Secretariat here today.
Talking on the topic he pointed out that “we take it far too lightly” that the POCSO Act was carved out to ensure that what the law already prohibited is not indulged in sex with minors.
Justice Banerjee reiterated that POCSO Act 2012 says that if a person is not above a certain age, that person has no right to consent sexually. This he said is the policy of the state and whether the child has given consent or not does not matter, it remains a crime.
Therefore, Justice Banerjee said, anyone claiming the right to have sex with a minor on grounds that he’s been in love for a long time does not make it any less an offence in the eyes of the existing law. “Saying I’m in love is no excuse at all,” he said, stressing that “it is an offence, period and we must be strict about that.”
He pointed out that the magnitude of the problem is widespread and that it becomes even more urgent as the offenders are usually a person who is supposed to be the protector of the child. Quoting from his own experience as a judge, Justice Banerjee said 80 per cent of appeals in sexual abuse cases pertain to POCSO cases.
Justice Banerjee said that it is time to wake up both in preventing and providing a strong support system for survivors of sexual assaults.
Later after the inaugural session was over, the Highland Post asked Justice Banerjee about the several judgements on POCSO cases by the Meghalaya High Court in which the idea of “being in love” seemed to be justified.
The HP question was, “Sir, isn’t what you just said opposite of the judgements given by your own court? It is rather confusing.”
Justice Banerjee of course declined to reply saying that this is not the forum for discussions, which is of course true.
Earlier Justice Hamarsan Singh Thangkhiew gave the opening remarks. He informed the gathering that this discussion is being held to take stock of a decade of implementation of the POCSO Act. These discussions will feed into a national consultation slated to be held next month.
Justice Thangkhiew said the idea is to review and identify good practices. He pointed out that there have been glitches, and that “one size does not fit all” since every region has its own background and context.
He said that there are for example “peculiar circumstances here as far as interpretations of the POCSO Act. Is it feasible in tribal societies where minors get married?”
He also said that the support system is most crucial for implementation of the POCSO Act.
The inaugural session was also graced by the presence of Meghalaya High Court judge Justice Wanlura Diengdoh and State Commission for Protection of Child Rights chairperson Iamon Syiem. Officials of various line departments were also present.
The programme was organised by the Juvenile Justice Committee, High Court of Meghalaya in collaboration with Directorate of Social Welfare and Directorate of Health Services.