Kolkata: The West Bengal Commission for Protection of Child Rights (WBCPCR) has initiated a survey to ascertain whether there is a need to introduce an "adolescent" age-group, for children aged between 14 and 18 years.
The study has been taken up, as the commission felt after going through several cases that children of the 14-18 age-group have been booked under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, in connection with "cases of elopement".
In the past six months, after a separate cell to look into the POCSO cases was set up by the commission, it has found around 40 such cases.
Anyone up to the age of 17 years and 364 days, falls under the category of minor as per the Juvenile Justice Act. Thus, even if a girl consents to elope with a boy, it would not count when a case under POCSO is started against "an adolescent", based on the complaint lodged by family members. So, the boy gets arrested and the girl passes through a traumatic situation as legal action is taken as per existing law.
It may be mentioned that one gets immediately arrested after a complaint against him is lodged under POCSO and the minimum punishment is imprisonment for three years.
Ananya Chatterjee Chakraborti, the chairperson of the commission, said: "POCSO is meant for protection of children. So, we have taken up the study to ensure that it doesn't lead to criminalisation, without an accused juvenile being an actual criminal."
"Though there is no 'adolescent age-group' in the Juvenile Justice Act at present, it has to be studied so that the rights of adolescents are upheld. But at the same time, it has nothing to do with marriage before one attains 18 years of age," she said, adding that it would reveal whether there is a need of categorising children between 14 and 18 years as "adolescents", so that their cases get treated accordingly.
The commission is carrying out the study in assistance with a non-government organisation and they are speaking to both the victims and accused of such cases to draw an inference. They are also speaking to their parents.
According to Chakraborty, it would take another 2 months to complete the study. All the cases of POCSO are reported to the commission within 24 hours of the case being lodged.
The commission is going through all the cases and speaking to the victims and accused as soon as it gets a hint that a case under the section has been started for something like elopement.