India: Cabinet approves capital punishment for rape of girls under age twelve

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Monday, April 23, 2018

On Saturday, India's Union Cabinet approved capital punishment in an ordinance for the rape of girls under the age of twelve. This comes after nationwide protests that took place in various cities after an eight-year-old girl was gang-raped and killed in Kathua city in Jammu and Kashmir.

Protesters for the Kathua and Unnao rape case at Parliament Street, New Delhi, India.
Image: DiplomatTesterMan. (CC BY-SA 4.0)

"Government has taken serious note of incidents of rape in various parts of the country [...] while expressing deep anguish over such incidents, it has been decided to devise a comprehensive response to deal with the solution", the special emergency cabinet said. Earlier this month retired government official Sanji Ram and several others —including multiple police officers— were arrested for, or in relation to, the gang rape and murder of Asifa, an eight-year-old Muslim girl, who police said was held captive and sedated at a temple in Kathua. On April 13, India's Central Bureau of Investigation arrested Kuldeep Singh Sengar, a Bharatiya Janta Party's Minister of Legislative Assembly, who is accused of raping a teenage girl in Unnao, Uttar Pradesh. Another rape and murder of an eleven-year-old girl took place in Gujarat's Surat district. According to the postmortem report, she was tortured, raped, strangled and smothered.

The ordinance, which was approved by India's president Ram Nath Kovind on Sunday, prescribed National Crime Records Bureau to maintain nationwide database and profiles for sexual offenders, setting up new fast-track courts, special rape-case forensic kits in all police stations and hospitals, and setting up special forensic labs.

The cabinet also recommended mandatory completion of rape investigation within a period of two months, prison term for convicts of rape of girls under the age of sixteen has been raised to twenty years, extending up to life-long imprisonment. Previously, it was ten years. Prison term for convicts of rape of females above the age of sixteen has been increased from seven to ten years. The ordinance document had no mention of rape of boys and men, Reuters reported.

In 2016, about 40 thousand rape cases were reported across the union, and roughly 40% of the victims were children. A law ministry official said, "An ordinance today is the best was to deal with the issue. An amendment bill will have to wait when the monsoon session of parliament commences." The monsoon session of the Parliament of India begins in July.

The Indian Penal Code, Code of Criminal Procedure, Protection of Children from Sexual Offences and Evidence Act are affected by the ordinance.

Women's right activist Kirti Singh told Al Jazeera, "Studies have shown that death penalty does not act as deterrent. Our experience shows the same. We are against death penalty." She added, "Some people in India act in with impunity, thinking that they won't be punished. The certainty of the punishment, rather than severity of it, should be made sure".

The December 2012 gang rape case in India's capital New Delhi led to the amendment of criminal laws, establishing a provision of the death penalty to the convict if a woman is killed or left in a "vegetative state" after rape. It came as an ordinance, originally. The adult convicts of that case were sentenced to death, but it has not been carried out. The last time a convict received capital punishment in India was in 2015.


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