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Indian court verdict ruling that groping a child is not sexual assault sparks outrage

By PhilSTAR L!fe Published Jan 28, 2021 8:19 am

A man, who abused a 12-year-old girl by groping her chest and attempting to take her underwear off, was acquitted of sexual assault charges in India.

Justice Pushpa Ganediwala of the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court handed down the decision last Jan. 19, 2021. She said that groping a minor's breast without “skin-to-skin contact" and sexual intent does not count as sexual assault under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.

The POCSO Act defines sexual assault as 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".

The incident happened in 2016, when the 39-year-old man took the girl home after he promised to give her something to eat. Instead, he sexually abused the child.

Ganediwala acquitted the suspect of sexual assault charges but convicted him on molestation charges,—which is not as grave—writing, “Considering the stringent nature of punishment provided for the offense, in the opinion of this court, stricter proof and serious allegations are required.”

Furthermore, the high court 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.”

Another similar incident was reported in Mumbai four days before the previously mentioned case. A mother accused a man of holding his daughter’s hands while his zipper was open. However, the court, under Justice Ganediwala, concluded that “The acts of ‘holding the hands of the prosecutrix’, or ‘opened zip of the pant’ as has been allegedly witnessed, in the opinion of this Court, does not fit in the definition of ‘sexual assault’.”

The accused sentence was reduced to five months, which “he has already undergone would serve the purpose,” the Court said.

And early this week, a 22-year-old truck driver was acquitted of raping a 16-year-old girl since the latter “did not specify how she and the accused found privacy” adding that “on the point of sexual intercourse, apart from the testimony of the victim, there was no other substantive material”.

These cases (and many more) sparked outrage, not only in India, but around the world. People are calling out the system and are crying for protection for women and children.

“This is a matter that has never been taken seriously and it continues to be overlooked in court. It is absolutely horrific,” one Twitter user said.

Another said, “I live in a country where sexual assaults and rape is so normalized that people don’t even bother reporting it. when does this stop ? when do I stop living in constant fear ? each and every woman in india has been uncomfortable in a mans presence.”

Another called India a “misogynistic” and “highly unsafe place for women,” pointing out that rape, sexual assault, and crime against women is becoming more common.

In the Philippines, litigator, advocate, human rights lawyer, and former spokesperson of the Supreme Court Atty. Theodore “Ted” Te said rape is defined as “either through sexual intercourse without consent or sexual assault through insertion of an object into the genitalia. Being present without participation in any way does not and cannot implicate anyone,” he told PhilSTAR L!fe in one interview.

President Rodrigo Duterte also signed the Safe Spaces Act or “Bawal Bastos” Law in 2018, which criminalizes catcalling, groping, flashing, and other forms of public sexual harassment.

Under the law, gender-based sexual harassment is not allowed in all public places, including streets, online, workplaces, educational and training institutions, recreational places, and public vehicles. Those who will be caught could face up to six months in jail and a fine of up to P500,000.