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Ignoring concerns expressed by child rights activists on the age of consent being increased from 16 to 18 years, the Rajya Sabha on Thursday passed the Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences Bill. The bill provides for special courts and stringent punishment including life imprisonment for sexual assault against a minor but it also seeks to criminalize teenage sex, making any intercourse below 18 years of age an offence.

Activists have opposed the bill saying it was retrograde and would allow enforcement authorities to harass young couples.

The House passed the bill through voice vote after a brief discussion with members expressing concern over the increasing number of child abuse cases.

Piloting the bill, women and child development minister Krishna Tirath said the legislation was necessitated due to the fact that incidents of child abuse had increased immensely, particularly in the NCR region. The minister said according to a study conducted by her ministry in 13 states, 33% of children said they had been sexually exploited.

The minister said the bill had a provision for state governments to set a court of session to be a special court to try offences under the Act.

The bill also has a provision for stringent punishment for perpetrators of crime against children. “Whoever commits penetrative sexual assault on children shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than seven years but which may extend to imprisonment for life and shall also be liable to fine.”

Initiating discussion on the bill, Smriti Irani (BJP) said the matter was “sensitive” and welcomed the government’s efforts to check the menace of sexual abuse of children, many a time perpetrated by relatives of the victims. She emphasized on adequate funds for relief and rehabilitation of victim child.

T N Seema (CPM) also supported the bill, saying existing legislations had failed to control crimes against children. Ramkripal Yadav (RJD), Bimla Kashyap (BJP) and D Raja (CPI) also spoke on the issue.

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