Why in News?
Assam has arrested over 2,000 men in a state-wide crackdown on child marriages that have taken place in the state. Those arrested have been booked under the provisions of the stringent POCSO Act and the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act.
- Men who married girls below 14 years of age would be booked under the Protection of Children From Sexual Offences Act, those marrying girls between 14 and 18 years would be booked under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act.
About the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act:
- The Union Ministry of Women and Child Development led the introduction of the POCSO Act in 2012.
- The Act was designed to protect children from sexual assault, sexual harassment and pornography offences, as well as to provide for the establishment of Special Courts for the trial of such offences.
- The Act was amended in 2019 for enhancing the punishments for specific offences in order to deter abusers and ensure a dignified childhood.
- A gender-neutral law: The POCSO Act establishes a gender-neutral tone for the legal framework available to child sexual abuse victims by defining a child as “any person” under the age of 18.
- Not reporting abuse is an offence: Any person (except children) in charge of an institution who fails to report the commission of a sexual offence relating to a subordinate is liable to be punished.
- No time limit for reporting abuse: A victim can report an offence at any time, even a number of years after the abuse has been committed.
- Maintaining confidentiality of the victim’s identity: The Act prohibits disclosure of the victim’s identity in any form of media, except when permitted by the special courts established under the act.
New obligations under the POCSO Rules 2020:
- Any institution housing children or coming in regular contact is required to conduct a periodic police verification and background check of every employee.
- Such an institution must impart regular training to sensitise its employees on child safety and protection.
- The institution has to adopt a child protection policy based on the principle of zero tolerance for violence against children.
POCSO Act’s performance in comparison to global standards:
- A 2019 Economist Intelligence Unit report ranked India’s legal system for safeguarding children from sexual abuse and exploitation as the best of the countries surveyed.
- On this metric, India outranked the United Kingdom, Sweden and Australia.
POCSO Act Some Provisions
- Under Section 19, POCSO Act imposes a “mandatory reporting obligation” which requires every person who suspects or has knowledge of a sexual offence being committed against a child must report it to the police or the Special Juvenile Police Unit. Failure to do so will result in imprisonment, a fine, or both.
- Mandatory reporting obligations also require doctors to report cases where minor girls seek medical assistance during pregnancies or for termination of pregnancies. Often doctors are forced to report sexual activity involving a minor girl, even if all parties involved have consented to the marriage.
What is the debate on Muslim age of marriage?
- Under Muslim personal laws, the marriage of a bride who has attained puberty is considered. Puberty is presumed, in the absence of evidence, on completion of the age of fifteen years.
- The gap between Muslim personal law and special legislations prohibiting child marriages or sexual activity of minors puts a shadow on criminality on such marriages.
What have the courts said on the issue?
- A bench led by CJI of the Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal against a 2022 decision of the Punjab & Haryana High Court which allowed a 16-and-a-half-year-old Muslim girl to marry a person of her choice after attaining puberty.
- The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has filed the appeal.
- NCPCR challenged the High Court’s ruling on grounds that personal laws can’t override special penal statutes.
- The National Commission for Women (NCW) also filed a petition in the Apex court in December 2022, where it sought directions to make the minimum marriageable age for Muslims at par with the other communities.
The SC’s intervention came after various High Courts ruled differently on this issue.
- The Punjab and Haryana High Court in a string of rulings has held that a Muslim girl can legally marry after attaining puberty. Often, the family of such girls file a case under POCSO alleging rape even when the minor girl has decided to marry or elope on her own volition.
- In October 2022, the Karnataka High Court quashed a POCSO case against a Muslim man who was arrested after a hospital made mandatory disclosures under the law when his pregnant wife, aged 17 years and two months visited a doctor.
- In November 2022, another bench of the Karnataka High Court, while noting the incongruity in law, granted bail to a Muslim man arrested under similar circumstances.
- In January 2013, the Karnataka High Court had ruled that the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act will have an overriding effect on the provisions of Muslim personal laws where a girl can marry upon attaining puberty, as was the case of a 17-year-old girl in “Seema Begum vs State of Karnataka.”
GS PAPER III NEWS
CAR T-cell therapy
Why in News?
A new development on Surgery and radiotherapy front, currently holding the attention of many researchers worldwide, is CAR T cell therapy.
How has systemic therapy evolved?
- Systemic therapy’s earliest form was chemotherapy; when administered, it preferentially acts on cancer cells because of the latter’s rapid, unregulated growth and poor healing mechanisms.
- Chemotherapeutic drugs have modest response rates and significant side effects as they affect numerous cell types in the body.
- The next stage in its evolution was targeted agents, also known as immunotherapy.
- The drugs bind to specific targets on the cancer or on the immune cells that help the tumor grow or spread.
- This method often has fewer sideeffects as the impact on non tumour cells is limited.
- It is effective only against tumours that express these targets.
What are CAR T-cells?
- Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) Tcell therapies represent a quantum leap in the sophistication of cancer treatment. Unlike chemotherapy or immunotherapy, which require mass produced injectable or oral medication, CAR T Cell therapies use a patient’s own cells.
- They are modified in the laboratory to activate T Cells, a component of immune cells, to attack tumours.
- These modified cells are then infused back into the patient’s bloodstream after conditioning them to multiply more effectively.
- The cells are even more specific than targeted agents and directly activate the patient’s immune system against cancer, making the treatment more clinically effective.
- This is why they’re called ‘living drugs’.
How does it work?
- In CAR T Cell therapy, the patient’s blood is drawn to harvest T Cells which are immune cells that play a major role in destroying tumour cells.
- Researchers modify these cells in the laboratory so that they express specific proteins on their surface, known as chimeric antigen receptors (CAR).
- They have an affinity for proteins on the surface of tumour cells.
- This modification in the cellular structure allows CAR T Cells to effectively bind to the tumor and destroy it.
- The final step in the tumor’s destruction involves its clearance by the patient’s immune system.
Where is it used?
- CAR T Cell therapy has been approved for leukaemias (cancers arising from the cells that produce white blood cells) and lymphomas (arising from the lymphatic system).
- These cancers occur through the unregulated reproduction of a single clone of cells, that is, following the cancerous transformation of a single type of cell, it produces millions of identical copies.
- The target for CAR Tcells is consistent and reliable.
- CAR Tcell therapy is also used among patients with cancers that have returned after an initial successful treatment or which haven’t responded to previous combinations of chemotherapy or immunotherapy.
- Its response rate is variable. In certain kinds of leukaemias and lymphomas, the efficacy is as high as 90%, whereas in other types of cancers it is significantly lower.
- The potential side effects are also significant, associated with cytokine release syndrome (a widespread activation of the immune system and collateral damage to the body’s normal cells) and neurological symptoms (severe confusion, seizures, and speech impairment).
How widespread is its use?
- The complexity of preparing CAR T Cells has been a major barrier to their use.
- The first clinical trial showing they were effective was published almost a decade ago , the first indigenously developed therapy in India was successfully performed only in 2022.
- The technical and human resources required to administer this therapy are also considerable. Treatments in the U.S. cost more than a million dollars.
- Trials are underway in India, with companies looking to indigenously manufacture CAR T Cells at a fraction of the cost.
Will this therapy be expensive in India as well?
- In India, introducing any new therapy faces the twin challenges of cost and value.
- Critics argue that developing facilities in India may be redundant and/or inappropriate as even when it becomes cheaper, CAR T Cell therapy will be unaffordable to most Indians.
- Those who are affluent and require the therapy currently receive it abroad anyway.
- While this is true, it may be the right answer to the wrong question.
- Having access to a global standard of care is every patient’s right; how it can be made more affordable can be the next step. Investments in developing these technologies in India represent the hope that, as with other initially expensive treatments like robotic surgery, we will be able to provide economies of scale.
- The sheer volume of patients in India has the potential to drive the cost of treatment down.
What are ‘cell therapies’?
- The interest in the technology goes beyond providing a new lease of life to people with leukaemias and lymphomas.
- Even for solid tumors like those of the prostate, lung, colon, and some other organs CAR T Cell therapy has shown results, particularly in patients whose tumors have recurred or have evaded multiple lines of treatment.
- The challenge with harnessing these techniques for solid tumors remains significant.
- These are highly heterogeneous cancers that lack a consistent target with which CAR Tcells can bind.
- Progress in the field, however, has the potential to unlock a host of newer treatments on the horizon called cell therapies.
- They include personalized anticancer vaccines and tumor infiltrating lymphocyte therapies (where white blood cells that attack the tumor are extracted, modified, and reintroduced into the patient).
- Cancer constantly evolves to evade treatment; similarly, we also need to keep developing more sophisticated therapies with as few side effects as possible.
- Cell therapies hold this promise and will also help us understand this dreaded disease and its complexities better.
GS PAPER III NEWS
Why in News?
Recently researchers are examining the fortress wall of Xi’an, an ancient city in China, by using tiny outer space particles called Muons that can penetrate hundreds of meters of stone surfaces
- These particles have helped them find small density anomalies, which are potential safety hazards, inside the wall.
- Muons are subatomic particles raining from space.
- They are created when the particles in Earth’s atmosphere collide with cosmic rays.
- These particles resemble electrons but are 207 times as massive.
- Therefore, they are sometimes called “fat electrons”.
- Because muons are so heavy, they can travel through hundreds of meters of rock or other matter before getting absorbed or decaying into electrons and neutrinos.
- In comparison, electrons can penetrate through only a few centimeters.
- Muons are highly unstable and exist for just 2.2 microseconds.
It is conceptually similar to X-ray but capable of scanning much larger and wider structures, owing to the penetration power of muons.
- Apart from archaeology, Muography has found use in customs security, internal imaging of volcanoes and others.
- Around 2015, scientists used the technique to look inside the Fukushima nuclear reactors after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
GS PAPER III NEWS
Primary Agricultural Credit Societies (PACS)
Why in News?
The Union Budget has announced Rs 2,516 crore for computerisation of 63,000 Primary Agricultural Credit Societies (PACS) over the next five years, with the aim of bringing greater transparency and accountability in their operations and enabling them to diversify their business and undertake more activities.
What are PACS?
- PACS are village level cooperative credit societies that serve as the last link in a three-tier cooperative credit structure headed by the State Cooperative Banks (SCB) at the state level.
- Credit from the SCBs is transferred to the district central cooperative banks,or DCCBs, that operate at the district level.
- The DCCBs work with PACS, which deal directly with farmers.
- These are cooperative bodies, individual farmers are members of the PACS, and office-bearers are elected from within them.
- A village can have multiple PACS.
Working of PACS?
- PACS are involved in short term lending or what is known as crop loan.
- The start of the cropping cycle, farmers avail credit to finance their requirement of seeds, fertilisers etc.
- Banks extend this credit at 7 percent interest,of which 3 percent is subsidised by the Centre,and 2 percent by the state government.
- Effectively,farmers avail the crop loans at 2 percent interest only.
Fact about PACS
- A report published by theReserveBank of India on December 27, 2022 put the number of PACS at 1.02 lakh.
- At the end of March 2021, only 47,297 of them were in profit.
- The same report said PACS had reported lending worth Rs1,43,044 crore and NPAs of Rs 72,550 crore.
- Maharashtra has 20,897 PACS of which 11,326 are in losses.
Why are PACS attractive?
- The attraction of the PACS lies in the last mile connectivity they offer.
- For farmers, timely access to capital is necessary at the start of their agricultural activities. PACS have the capacity to extend credit with minimal paperwork within a short time.
- With other scheduled commercial banks, farmers have often complained of tedious paperwork and red tape.
- For farmers, PACS provide strength in numbers, as most of the paperwork is taken care of by the office-bearer of the PACS.
- In the case of scheduled commercial banks, farmers have to individually meet the requirement and often have to take the help of agents to get their loans sanctioned.
- NABARD annual report of 2021-22 shows that 59.6 percent of the loans were extended to the small and marginal farmers.
- Since PACS are cooperative bodies,however, political compulsions often trump financial discipline, and the recovery of loans is hit.
- Chairpersons of PACS participate in electing the office-bearers of DCCBs.
- Political affiliations are important here as well.
Where is computerisation needed?
- The National Institute of Cooperative Management pointed out that whileSCBs and DCCBs are connected to the Core Banking Software (CBS),PACS are not.
- PACS use their own software, but a compatible platform is necessary to bring about uniformity in the system.
- Computerisation of PACS has already been taken up by a few states, including Maharashtra. The Maharashtra State Cooperative Bank has plans to directly lend to PACS in districts where the DCCBs are either financially weak or have lost their banking license in this situation; computerisation of PACS would help.