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Landmark Ruling: Karnataka HC Deciphers POCSO's Scope on consensual Adolescent Relationships

By - King Stubb & Kasiva on March 16, 2024


The recent ruling by the Karnataka High Court in the case of G Raghu Varma vs The State of Karnataka marks a significant legal milestone in the interpretation and application of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (‘POCSO’) Act, 2012. In this landmark judgment, the court provided crucial clarification on the intent and scope of the act, reaffirming its protective nature while addressing a contentious issue regarding consensual relationships involving minors. The case centred around a 21-year-old accused, G Raghu Varma, who was charged under the POCSO Act for his alleged involvement in a consensual relationship with a minor. The article seeks to highlight the significance of this ruling in balancing the imperative of safeguarding children from sexual offenses with the need to ensure justice and fairness in individual cases involving consensual relationships.

Factual Background of the case:

The case revolves around a young man who was booked by the Bengaluru Police for marrying and engaging in a sexual relationship with a girl who is currently 16 years old. The accused sought to have the criminal proceedings against him quashed, asserting that their relationship was consensual. This claim was supported by an affidavit submitted by the survivor and her parents where they presented themselves before the High Court on December 20, 2023, and jointly submitted an affidavit. In this affidavit, they clarified that the marriage between the survivor and the accused was not intentional and occurred without a full understanding of the legal implications.

They further disclosed that a male child was born as a result of this marriage on November 28, 2023. This aspect highlighted the dependency of the survivor and her child on the accused for their livelihood. It presented a humanitarian plea to the court, suggesting that imprisoning the accused would not only impact him but also exacerbate the hardships faced by the survivor and her child. They argued that if the criminal proceedings against the accused were to continue and he were to be imprisoned as a result, it would only lead to more hardship and suffering for the survivor and her child.


A landmark judgment by the Karnataka High Court in the case of G Raghu Varma vs The State of Karnataka, delivered on February 19, 2024. In this judgment, the court made a significant clarification regarding the interpretation and application of the POCSO Act. In its decision to quash the case against the accused, the Karnataka High Court emphasized the paramount objective of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act, which is the protection of minors from sexual abuse. While acknowledging the gravity of the allegations involving a 21-year-old individual marrying a 16-year-old and engaging in a sexual relationship, the court underscored the Act's focus on safeguarding minors rather than criminalizing consensual relationships among adolescents.

Justice Chandangoudar, in his sagacious observation, emphasized that the POCSO Act aims to safeguard minors from sexual abuse and should not be applied to penalize consensual relationships between adolescents who may not fully comprehend the consequences of their actions. This ruling underscores the court's recognition of the nuanced complexities surrounding adolescent relationships and the importance of distinguishing between consensual interactions and instances of sexual exploitation or abuse.

Overall, this judgment represents a significant legal development in clarifying the intent and scope of the POCSO Act, reaffirming its protective nature while ensuring that legal measures are proportionate and justly applied in cases involving adolescent relationships.


In this case, the court highlighted the socio-economic background of both the accused and the minor girl involved, emphasizing their limited access to information. The court acknowledged that individuals from lower socio-economic strata may not always have the same level of awareness or understanding of legal consequences as those from more privileged backgrounds.

While quashing the case under provisions of Indian Penal Code (‘IPC’), POCSO Act, and the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act the court made an observation that:

“The object of POCSO Act is to protect minors from sexual abuse and not to criminalize the consensual relationship between two adolescents who had consensual sexual intercourse without knowing the consequences. The petitioner and the survivor come from the lower socio-economic segment having limited access to information and knowledge, thus depriving them about the consequences in having consensual sexual intercourse. Though having sexual intercourse consensually with the minor is an offence under the POCSO Act, however, having regard to the facts and circumstances of the case, to secure the ends of justice, it would be appropriate to quash the impugned proceedings, otherwise, it would result in miscarriage of justice to the survivor and the child.”

By stating that the primary objective of the POCSO Act is to protect minors from sexual abuse rather than to criminalize consensual relationships between adolescents, the court provided a nuanced interpretation of the law.

 It recognized that in cases where two adolescents engage in consensual sexual activity without fully comprehending the legal ramifications, the focus should primarily be on safeguarding the well-being of minors rather than imposing punitive measures. This interpretation reflects a consideration of the socio-economic context and the vulnerabilities that may accompany it. It underscores the need for a balanced approach in applying the provisions of the POCSO Act, ensuring that while protecting minors from sexual exploitation remains paramount, the legal system also takes into account the circumstances and understanding of the individuals involved.


The court's decision to quash the criminal proceedings and order the immediate release of the petitioner from judicial custody reflects a nuanced understanding of the complexities surrounding cases of adolescent relationships under POCSO Act. By recognizing that the relationship between the accused and the minor girl was consensual, albeit conducted unknowingly of the legal implications, the court acknowledges the grey areas and challenges in applying strict legal measures in such cases.

This decision acknowledges that while the accused may have violated the law, the consequences of punitive measures must be carefully weighed against the potential harm it may cause to the survivor and her child. In doing so, the court upholds the principles of fairness and equity, ensuring that justice is served while minimizing unnecessary harm to vulnerable individuals. As stakeholders in the legal community and advocates for child rights continue to grapple with the complexities of interpreting and implementing the POCSO Act, the insights from this landmark judgment will set a pathway for the future legal discourse and shape the trajectory of child protection laws in India.

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