The Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that touching a child with sexual intent—even through clothing—is sexual assault under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Pocso) Act.

It set aside separate decisions of the Bombay high court passed in January that made skin-to-skin physical contact a necessary condition to hold someone guilty of sexual assault.

Underscoring the detrimental effect of allowing such an interpretation, a bench of justices U.U. Lalit, S. Ravindra Bhat and Bela M. Trivedi said, “Restricting the interpretation of the words ‘touch’ or ‘physical contact’ to ‘skin-to-skin contact’ would not only be a narrow and pedantic interpretation of the provision contained in Section 7 of the Pocso Act, but it would lead to an absurd interpretation of the said provision.”

The court set aside the two orders of the high court—passed on 15 and 19 January—and directed the convicted persons to surrender within four weeks to undergo the remaining sentence of three years and five years awarded to them by a special Pocso court last year.

One of the accused, Satish, had touched the breasts of the victim through her clothing and had tried to remove her salwar (pants) when he was caught in the act by the victim’s mother. This incident was from December 2016.

The other case was from February 2018 when the accused, Libnus, held the hand of the victim—a five-year-old—and unzipped his pants, exposing his penis, while trying to remove the child’s frock.

Both were held guilty by the special Pocso court for offences under Sections 7, 8, and 10 of the Act.

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