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Is Death Penalty for Raping Minors a Good Move?
Author: Thamanna Abdul Latheef
Following a nationwide outcry over the latest sexual assaults, Rajya Sabha approved a bill that seeks to provide death penalty to those convicted of raping girls below the age of 12 years. The order also forces the police to complete rape investigations within two months and extend maximum sentences for the rape of girls under 16 and women.
The government’s quickness in amending the law can be attributed to the massive national outrage over the brutal rape of two young girls (and the murder of one) in separate incidents in Unnao, Uttar Pradesh and Kathua, Jammu and Kashmir. Ever since the Centre invoked the law, it has attracted intense criticism from child activists, human rights organizations and the intelligentsia over the futility of awarding the death penalty to child rapists.
How grave is the issue?
According to the National Crime Records Bureau, about 90 per cent of child rape cases were pending trial in India in 2016, no more than 28 per cent of such cases ended in conviction, and there is a 20-year backlog in bringing cases to trial. In 2016, almost 93,344 cases of crimes against children were registered across India.
There has also been an increase in sex crimes against children. To address this, the government had passed the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act in 2012, with the specific aim of addressing sexual offences against those below 18 years of age. The maximum punishment under POCSO is for aggravated sexual assault on minors, punishable with up to 10 years in jail (and can extend to imprisonment for life in some cases).
According to National Law University Delhi’s Centre on the Death Penalty, globally 14 countries have death penalty law for child rapists. Recently, the Rajasthan government approved a bill seeking death penalty for those convicted of raping girls under 12 years of age. Two other BJP ruled states — Madhya Pradesh and Haryana — have also given the go-ahead for a similar law.
The first step in securing convictions in child rape cases begins with improving the workings of the police station, the first port of call for the victim. There have been numerous instances in which the police have refused to file FIRs, especially when the victims are from poor families. In the case of child victims, the police must be particularly sensitive and quick while recording complaints.
On one hand, the law enforcement should be very stringent so that the fear of law can pull out people from committing crimes. But, the death penalty might also inhibit reporting of the crime, when the rapist is a close relative or otherwise well known to the family of the victim, as is the case in 94% of reported rape cases. Law of the land must act wisely to wipe out the menace of sexual atrocities from the country.
All these data indicate the government move to prioritize a change to legislation that allows courts to grant the death penalty will not bring quicker or better justice because there is no plan to address conviction failures and court delays. And that must be the focus area of the government.