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POCSO not meant to criminalise consensual romantic relationships: Delhi High Court

New Delhi: The Delhi high court recently observed that the intention of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act was to protect children from sexual exploitation and it was “never meant to criminalise consensual romantic relationships between young adults.”

The observation was made by Justice Jasmeet Singh while granting bail to a young man, who was arrested by the Delhi Police, based on an FIR filed by the father of a minor girl who accused him of raping and kidnapping his 17-year-old daughter with intent to compel her to marriage.

In October 2021, the girl came to the house of the man and the next day they went to Punjab and got married.

The girl, last year, approached the High Court of Punjab and Haryana stating that she had married the young man out of her own will. And, subsequently, the High Court of Punjab and Haryana directed the police to provide adequate and appropriate protection to the girl and her husband.

However, the parents of the girl lodged a complaint in Delhi, claiming that the girl was 17 years old when she got married to the man.

The man was arrested and had been in judicial custody since December 2021 and approached the Delhi high court for bail.

Last month, on October 20, while granting bail to the man, the court noted that the girl had married the applicant out of her own free will and without any coercion.

Taking note of the submission, Justice Singh said, “In my opinion, the intention of POCSO was to protect children below the age of 18 years from sexual exploitation. It was never meant to criminalise consensual romantic relationships between young adults”, as reported by Bar and Bench.

However, this has to be seen from facts and circumstances of each case. There might be cases where the survivor of sexual offence, may under pressure or trauma be forced to settle, the Court said.

Justice said he interacted with the girl in his chamber, she told him that she had married the applicant out of her own free will and without any coercion.

She further said that she wants to stay with the applicant.

After considering the case, Justice Singh held that it was not a case where the girl was coerced into the relationship with the boy.

In fact, Ms. ‘A’ (the girl), herself went to the applicant’s house and asked him to marry her,” Justice Singh noted, adding, “the statement of the victim makes it clear that this is a romantic relationship between the two and that the sexual act involved between them was consensual.”

“Although the victim is minor and hence her consent does not have any legal bearing, I am of the opinion that the factum of a consensual relationship borne out of love should be of consideration while granting bail,” he observed.

“To ignore the statement of the victim and let the accused suffer behind jail, in the present case, would otherwise amount to perversity of justice,” the Court said.

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