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Unveiling the Veil: A Spotlight on Child Protection Laws

The case of "Satish Ragde vs The State of Maharashtra" involved a man named Satish Ragde who was accused of sexually assaulting a minor girl. The case was initially heard by the Special Court and later appealed in the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court. The court's decision sparked a significant social debate about the interpretation and application of child sexual abuse laws, particularly the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.

Case Name: Satish Ragde Vs. The State of Maharashtra
Court: Bombay High Court, Nagpur Bench
Coram: Justice Pushpa V. Ganediwala
Date of Decision: 19th January 2021

According to the Prosecution, the girl went out to bring guava. When the girl did not return after a long time, the mother went looking for her. In an attempt to find out where her daughter was, she saw the accused come down the stairs, and when she asked him for information, he denied to know anything about her. The mother found that his door had been bolted. Upon unlatching the door, she found the minor child inside crying.

Her mother took her out. The prosecutrix was scared, and she promptly described the entire incident to her mother, claiming that the accused had taken her inside his house on the pretence of giving her guava, pressed her breast, and she shouted when he tried to take off her salwar. The mother filed a police report against the accused right afterward. Following an inquiry, the police presented the charge sheet to the Special POCSO Court in Nagpur.

  1. Will the accused be held guilty of sexual harassment in compliance with sections 7 and 8 of the POCSO Act?
  2. Whether pressing the prosecutrix's breast without making skin-to-skin contact qualifies as sexual assault under the terms of section 7 of the POCSO Act and is punishable under its section 8?
  3. Whether the accused's "attempt to remove Salwar" qualifies as "sexual assault" under section 7 of the POCSO Act, is it also unlawful under section 8?

Judgement of the Court:
The court observed that the learned counsel was unable to establish from evidence presented that the testimony of the young girl's mother and the minor girl could not be taken into account or that they were not competent witnesses. The girl's answers to the questions weren't irrational. Additionally, she quickly informed her mother of the incident when it occurred, and on that premise, the FIR was filed. Under Section 6 of the Indian Evidence Act, both the mother's and the daughter's testimony are credible and admissible, hence the principle of Res gestae would be applicable.

The court additionally ruled that additional proof and substantial claims were required since, according to the definition of sexual assault, physical contact with sexual intent but no penetration is a crucial component of the offense in question. According to Section 7 of the POCSO Act, the accused and the victim cannot have direct physical contact or skin-to-skin contact if the accused removed the prosecutrix's top or inserted his hand in the top while touching her breasts, according to the court. Although, according to Section 354 of the IPC, the accused's actions appear to meet the criteria of "Outraging the modesty of women."

The bench acquitted the accused as not guilty under Section 8 of the POCSO Act but convicted him as liable for outraging the modesty and wrongfully confining the prosecutrix under Sections 354 and 342 of the IPC. In addition, the accused was given a non-bail able warrant and was sentenced to a year of rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs.500.

The Bombay High Court's interpretation lowered the sentence for the defendants, who should have received the harsh punishments outlined in the POCSO Act because minors are more vulnerable. As a result, the court's view is contrary to the underlying objective of the statute.

The court's interpretation that skin-to-skin contact is a prerequisite to sexual assault under Section 7 of the POCSO Act is problematic for various reasons which are as follows:
  1. The necessity of skin-to-skin contact is not specified in the statute. The pertinent portion of Section 7 merely states that "or does any other Act with Sexual Intent which involves physical contact without penetration is said to commit sexual assault." The court had wrongly interpreted physical contact to mean skin to skin contact.
  2. The very initial phrase of Section 7 reads, "whoever with sexual intent touches..." Even the word "touch" does not implies skin-to-skin contact. Thus, regardless of whether the molestation occurred over or beneath clothing, the offence of sexual assault was proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused pressed the victim's breast.
  3. Additionally, if the legislators had wanted to limit the application of Section 7, they would have made the necessity of skin-to-skin contact clear. As a result, the Court cannot use an interpretative approach to substantially restrict the punishable reach of this section and to trivialize statutory measures intended to serve as a deterrent against cases of sexual assault against children.

Furthermore, the bench did not give sufficient consideration to the accused's intentions or the fact that the victim is a juvenile girl who is entitled to additional security from sexual offenses while rendering the decision.

Written By: Akshaya Zavar

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