The Supreme Court on Wednesday (January 27) put a stay on the Bombay High Court’s order which ruled that groping without ‘skin-to-skin’ contact will not be classified as sexual assault under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.
The Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court on January 19 gave the judgment while hearing the case of a 12-year-girl, who was allegedly abused by a 39-year-old man in 2016.
The girl’s mother had alleged that their neighbour Satish had lured her daughter into her house on the pretext of giving her something to eat. Once inside the house, he had pressed her breast and tried to undress her. When the girl called for help, the man had fled the spot. The girl was rescued by her mother.
A special sessions court had sentenced the accused to three years in jail. Overturning the order, the high court said groping without ‘skin-to-skin’ contact will not be considered as sexual assault.
“Considering the stringent nature of punishment provided for the offence (under POCSO), in the opinion of this court, stricter proof and serious allegations are required,” a single-judge bench of Justice Pushpa Ganediwala said.
“The act of pressing of breast of the child aged 12 years, in the absence of any specific detail as to whether the top was removed or whether he inserted his hand inside the top and pressed her breast, would not fall in the definition of sexual assault,” Justice Ganediwala added.
Under POCSO, sexual assault occurs when someone “with sexual intent touches the vagina, penis, anus or breast of the child or makes the child touch the vagina, penis, anus or breast of such person or any other person, or does any other act with sexual intent which involves physical contact without penetration is said to commit sexual assault”.
The high court’s order was criticised by child rights activists who raised concerns about assaults like verbal abuse and stalking that may not be ‘skin-to-skin’ in nature, but could be equally detrimental for the victim.