The Supreme Court on Wednesday put on hold an order passed by the Bombay High Court that acquitted a man after observing that groping without “skin-to-skin contact” does not constitute as sexual assault under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, Live Law reported.

A bench headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde stayed the acquittal on a mention made by the Attorney General of India KK Venugopal. He submitted that the judgement was “unprecedented” and “is likely to set a dangerous precedent”.

Justice Bobde asked Venugopal to file a petition against the judgement. The court also issued notice to the accused in the case and sought his response in two weeks.

In a judgement passed on January 19, the Bombay High Court had ruled that groping a minor’s breast without removing their top did not fall into the category of sexual assault defined under Section 7 of the Act. A bench of Justice Pushpa Ganediwala was hearing an appeal against the conviction in a case where a man had allegedly taken a minor girl to his house on the pretext of offering her a fruit, pressed her breasts and partially stripped her.

Section 7 of the POCSO Act states, “Whoever, with sexual intent touches the vagina, penis, anus or breast of the child or makes the child touch the vagina, penis, anus or breast of such person or any other person, or does any other act with sexual intent which involves physical contact without penetration, is said to commit sexual assault.”

Based on the above definition, the court concluded that for a person to be held guilty under this law, the act would have to be committed with a “sexual intent”, and it must involve “touching the vagina, penis, anus or breast of the child or any other act, which are similar to the acts specifically mentioned in the provision”.

The judge, therefore, acquitted the accused under POCSO Act, while upholding his conviction under Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalises outraging the modesty of a woman.

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Several activists and child rights bodies had criticised the judgement, terming it “absolutely unacceptable, outrageous and obnoxious”.

On January 25, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights had implored the Maharashtra government to file an urgent appeal against the Bombay High Court’s interpretation of what constitutes as sexual assault of a minor. The children’s rights body said the language of the judgement needed to be reviewed at the earliest as it was derogatory to the minor.