As the shocking rapes in Kathua and Unnao triggered nationwide outrage and brought into focus the safety of minor girls in India, the Modi government on Friday told the Supreme Court (SC) that it proposes to amend the laws to ensure that those guilty of raping children get death penalty.
It said the change will be brought by amending the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012.
POCSO Act classifies child abuse into sexual harassment, sexual assault and aggravated sexual assault. At present, the law provides for varying levels of punishment for each crime against children.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) figures, India has recorded 106 rapes a day in 2016, where four out of 10 victims were minors.
“I am directed to inform that issues raised in the petition regarding the amendment of provisions of the POCSO Act, 2012, so as to provide maximum punishment of death penalty for commission of offences of rape of children up to 12 years of age group is under active consideration of the ministry,” the Centre said in a note submitted to the bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, which is hearing a PIL filed by a lawyer, Alakh Alok Srivastava, demanding death penalty for those raping children.
“The ministry is sensitive to the plight of young children, brutally abused in the most horrific manner. The ministry is proposing to amend POCSO Act, 2012, for introducing death penalty for the abuse in the cases of aggravated sexual assault against children. The honourable court shall be appraised in the matter,” said the note prepared by a deputy secretary in the Government of India.
It is to be noted that amid rising tensions in Jammu and Uttar Pradesh over the rapes in Kathua and Unnao, respectively, both state governments had proposed changing law to award death sentence to child rapists.
This is a U-turn on the part of the government, as on the last date of hearing it expressed its objection to award the death penalty to child abusers, rapists and paedophiles, saying “death penalty is not an answer for everything.”
Srivastava had, in fact, filed the PIL drawing the attention of the court to the shocking incident of rape of an eight-month old girl by her 28-year-old cousin in Shakur Basti of northwest Delhi in January, and sought framing of guidelines to ensure that investigation and trial of cases involving rape of children below the age of 12 years, under the POCSO Act, should be completed within six months from the date of lodging of the FIR.
On March 12, the SC had directed the registrars general of all high courts to give intimation to the registry of the apex court of the district-wise pendency of the cases under the POCSO Act of 2012, along with the status.
The bench also requested the chief justices of the high courts concerned to forward suggestions in the light of the rate of pendency as high as 95 per cent in 2016, as submitted by Srivastava.
The top court, which had said it cannot direct Parliament to amend law, however, had asked the Centre to give details of pending cases of sexual assault against children across the country for taking a national view with an aim to figuring out how such trials could be fast-tracked.