The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Amendment Bill, 2019, which was passed in the Rajya Sabha on July 24, widens the definition of child pornography to go beyond videos, and include any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a child – including “photograph, video, digital or computer generated image indistinguishable from an actual child, and image created, adapted, or modified, but appear to depict a child.” [Clause d(a), Section 2].

We reported earlier that even an adult actor pretending to be a child (in a sexually explicit content) would come under its ambit. So will cartoons and anime depicting child porn. Violators will be face a fine and prison term of minimum of 5 years, repeat offenders will face a fine and prison term of 7 years minimum.

The amendment introduces a new section 15 and proposes the following penalties for storage and possession of pornographic material involving children:

  • A minimum fine of Rs. 5,000 for possession of pornographic material involving a child and with intention to share the material in first time offence. For subsequent offences, the fine will be no less than Rs. 10,000.
  • Transmission such material, except for the purpose of reporting or as evidence in the court, will be punishable with a fine, prison term of upto 3 years, or both.
  • Commercial use of such material will be punishable with prison term of 3-5 years, or fine, or both for the first conviction. Subsequent convictions can lead to prison term of 5-7 years with fine.

MPs speak on the storage and circulation of child pornography

While the Bill was being discussed in Parliament, it found support from across the political spectrum. More than one MP criticised the bill for dealing more with punishing offenders, rather than bringing in measures to curb sexual assault of children and child pornography.

  • Language of Bill open-ended at places: Sasmit Patra of the Biju Janata Dal said that the use of ‘depict’ in defining child pornography can be subject to interpretations and can possible dilute the definition. He urged the government and Women & Child Development minister Smriti Irani to take a close look at these terms and frame it to be more close-ended so that inferences and interpretations don’t happen.
  • Bill discourages circulation of child porn on WhatsApp: Congress’ Vivek K Tankha said that section 14, which considers circulation of child pornography a sexual assault, was a welcome move. He flagged WhatsApp and said that child pornography being circulated via the platform should be discouraged, which this amendment does.
  • Fuzzy penalties: Trinamool Congress’ Abir Ranjan Biswas said that amended Sections 15(1) and 15(2), both prescribe different punishments for the similar offence of storing pornographic material with the intention of transmitting child pornography; and the first clause only prescribes a fine. Meanwhile, the second clause punishes the offence with imprisonment or fine. He asked why the Bill prescribed two different punishments for the same nature of crime.
  • Nominated MP Narendra Jadhav pointed out that the Bill doesn’t include any provision to penalise “perverts” who force children to watch pornographic pictures or videos for their own sexual gratification.

What the January POCSO amendment bill proposed against child porn

The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, 2019 (introduced in Parliament in January) provided for death penalty for aggravated sexual assault on children, made the Act gender neutral, and also had protections against child porn. The earlier bill also made failure to delete child porn material punishable, but with much lower penalties: Rs 1,000 and Rs 5,000 in the first and second offence respectively, and with up to three years imprisonment. POCSO was enacted in 2012 to protect children from sexual assault, sexual harassment, and pornography.