An Indian court’s decision to reduce the sentence of a convict who sexually assaulted a 10-year-old boy has led to massive outrage across the country.
The Allahabad High Court in Uttar Pradesh said oral sex with a minor was not “aggravated sexual assault” and reduced the convict’s sentence from 10 years’ imprisonment to seven. The judgment was delivered on 18 November but only made public this week.
Justice Anil Kumar Ojha of Allahabad High Court said in his order that “putting [a] penis into [the] mouth does not fall in the category of aggravated sexual assault or sexual assault” but comes under the category of “penetrative sexual assault” under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Pocso) Act.
“Penetrative sexual assault being [a] lesser offence from aggravated penetrative sexual assault is legally permissible to convict the appellant therein,” the judge said.
Activists and legal experts across the country have reacted with horror.
The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, a statutory Indian body, urged to the government of Uttar Pradesh to file an “urgent appeal” against the court order. It also asked for details of the child so legal aid could be provided.
Many others took to social media to condemn the ruling.
Mahua Moitra, a member of parliament from West Bengal, wrote on Twitter: “Wake up High Courts - POCSO meant to save kids from vilest crimes. Don’t dilute it.”
The Allahabad High Court’s ruling was made public just days after the Supreme Court of India struck down a controversial Bombay High Court order that cleared a man of sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl just because there was no “skin-to-skin contact” with the child.
Last year, the National Crime Records Bureau in India registered 43,000 cases under the Pocso Act.
And according to Interpol, an estimated 2.4 million instances of online child sexual abuse were reported in India from 2017 to 2020. Data suggests that 80 per cent of these children were girls under the age of 14.