New Delhi: The Union Cabinet on Thursday approved a bill seeking to prevent sexual abuse of children with provisions for stringent punishment for such offences.

The section 7 of the bill provides for "no punishment" if the consent for sexual act has been obtained with a person aged between 16 to 18 years.

The proposed legislation aims at protecting children against offences of sexual assault, sexual harassment, pornography and provide for establishment of special courts for trial of such offences.

The bill provides for treating sexual assault as "aggravated offence" when it is committed by a person in position of trust or authority over a child including a member of the security forces, police officer, public servant, management or staff of a children's home, hospital or educational institution.

It will be treated as an aggravated offence where the child victim is below 12 years or has mental or physical disability or the sexual offence causing grievous hurt or injury to the child with long-term adverse effect on the latter's mind and body.

The punishment for penetrative sexual assault has been proposed as at least five years in jail and a minimum fine of Rs 50,000. Sexual assault also includes fondling the child in an inappropriate way which will invite a penalty of minimum three years in jail.

There are nine chapters and 44 sections in the proposed bill.

There is a special provision in the bill preventing abuse of children for pornographic purpose or possessing pornographic material involving children. There will be an obligation on the media, studio and photographic facilities to report such cases and failure to do so will attract punishment.

The bill also envisages set procedure for media on reporting that would bar giving details of the victim and accused children's family or personal details or any form of reporting that can lead to their identification. Besides, it proposes special courts and more sensitive ways in dealing with crime against children.

The new law will cover all new aspects of sexual offences against children not covered elsewhere with provision for stringent punishment.

In her address to joint sitting of both the houses of Parliament in this session, President Pratibha Patil had mentioned the government's proposal to introduce the bill.

Congress President Sonia Gandhi was keen to see the bill through and had written to Women and Child Development (WCD) Minister Krishna Tirath last year asking her to hasten the pace of the legislation focusing on sexual abuse of children, sources said.

Amid reports of differences between ministries, she as NAC Chairperson had asked the WCD ministry to coordinate with the Law Ministry which had already prepared a draft bill on similar lines.

(Agencies)