The Women and Child Development (WCD) Ministry will seek a change in the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) to allow filing of complaints of child sexual abuse many years after the crime took place.
The development came after a meeting last month between WCD Minister Maneka Gandhi and a 53-year-old Indian-origin scientist from Canada, a survivor of child sexual abuse, who asked for legislative amendments to allow victims to report such crimes even years later.
"We are in the process of writing to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) asking them to amend Section 473 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. So, time limitation will go away," said R K Shrivastava, Secretary, WCD, on Monday, 13 February.
He said the ministry will pursue the matter with the MHA as it has been receiving "several complaints of incidents that have occurred many years ago".
While officials did not comment on the exact amendment being suggested, Gandhi told reporters, "the substance of it will be that if you have been molested at some point in time when you were a minor, then you are still entitled to get justice".
She, however, said that there could be a problem revisiting old cases of crime.
"Only problem I envisage is that how do you prove it? (But) the best we can hope is that people get frightened that they could land in trouble," Gandhi said.
Section 468 of the CrPC, also called the Statute of Limitations, lays down time limitations for filing a complaint after an offence has taken place.
If the offence is punishable with a fine then it needs to be reported within six months. A crime carrying a term not exceeding one year has a period of limitation of a year.
If a crime is punishable between one and three years, then it has to be reported within three years and for anything beyond a three-year jail term, there is no time restriction for reporting the crime.
Section 473 of the CrPC, to which the ministry has sought changes, allows a court to take cognisance of an offence even after the expiry of the period of limitation provided “the delay has been properly explained or that it is necessary to do so in the interests of justice”.
The scientist, Purnima Govindarajulu was subjected to sexual abuse for seven years between the age of six and 13 years.
While the scientist approached the Chennai police in 2016, to file a complaint, all her efforts came to a nought.
In an interview with The Quint, Purnima said this was when she realised that despite the new Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, which is meant to protect children against sexual abuse, she could not file a case against her molester as an ‘adult’ survivor of child sexual abuse.
The POCSO Act, 2012, is unclear on whether a survivor of child sexual abuse can report the crime after the age of 18 years.
Moreover, POCSO cannot be applied retrospectively to cases prior to its enactment in 2012 and such cases fall under the provisions of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
(With inputs from PTI)