Gauhati High Court Clarifies Scope of Penetrative Sexual Assault Under POCSO Act

Gauhati High Court clarifies POCSO Act: even slight penetration warrants charges. State of Mizoram v. Lalramliana sets precedent. Accused acquitted due to wrong charge framing.

In a significant ruling, the Gauhati High Court has underscored the expansive interpretation of the charge of penetrative sexual assault under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. The court emphasized that even the slightest penetration suffices to invoke this charge, dispelling the notion that evidence of hymen tear is indispensable.

The court's pronouncement came in response to an appeal challenging the acquittal of an accused in a case registered under Section 6 of the POCSO Act. The trial court had acquitted the accused, contending that the charge was incorrectly framed under Section 4 of the Act, instead of Section 6.

Justice Kaushik Goswami, presiding over the single-judge bench, unequivocally stated, "In the present case, the finding of the Trial Court... does not inspire confidence." The court stressed that the absence of visible signs of injury does not discredit the victim's testimony.

Highlighting the pivotal aspect of penetration, the court affirmed that the charge of penetrative sexual assault stands upon any degree of insertion, irrespective of hymen integrity. The case at hand involved a 13-year-old victim who alleged assault by the accused, prompting the filing of charges under Section 6 of the POCSO Act.

However, the trial court, upon framing charges under Section 4 instead of Section 6, subsequently acquitted the accused based on medical findings of no genital injuries and intact hymen. Dissatisfied with the verdict, the State of Mizoram lodged an appeal before the High Court.

The accused contended inconsistencies in the victim's statements, challenging their reliability. The High Court, however, emphasized the inherent credibility of a minor's testimony in cases of sexual assault, underscoring the need for meticulous consideration.

The court scrutinized the victim's account, acknowledging her assertion of physical pain upon digital insertion by the accused. This acknowledgment, the court argued, substantiates the occurrence of penetrative assault, even without visible genital injuries.

Consequently, the High Court concluded that the trial court's findings were erroneous and unsustainable. It further reiterated that the offense, falling under Section 5(n) of the POCSO Act, necessitates punishment as per Section 6.

In light of the mis framed charge and flawed trial proceedings, the High Court annulled the trial court's judgment and remanded the case for proper adjudication. It directed the trial court to reframe the charge and resolve the matter expeditiously, within a stipulated timeframe.