In the wake of the outrage over the kidnapping, rape and murder of a minor girl in Kathua, the Union Cabinet on Saturday approved the promulgation of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2018, which allowed courts to award death penalty to those convicted of raping children below 12 years of age.
The Ordinance will now be sent to President Ram Nath Kovind for approval and will have to be ratified by both Houses of Parliament within six weeks, once they reconvene, said officials.
The last time the government took the Ordinance route for an amendment of the criminal law was in 2013. Then, soon after the December 2012 gang rape in Delhi, the UPA government had brought in an Ordinance to provide for stringent punishment for sexual offences against women.
The Ordinance provides for stringent punishment for rape of girls under 12, with a minimum of 20 years’ imprisonment or imprisonment for rest of life and the maximum of death. In case of gang rape of a girl below 12 years, the minimum punishment will be imprisonment for the “rest of life” and the maximum, death sentence.
The proposed Ordinance also extends the maximum punishment for rape of a child between 12 and 16 years from 10 years of rigorous imprisonment in prison to 20 years, “extendable to imprisonment for rest of life, which shall mean imprisonment till that person’s natural life”. The punishment for gangrape of a girl between 12 and 16 years of age will invite punishment of imprisonment for the “rest of life of the convict”, according to the proposed Ordinance.
For the offence of rape, of those above 16, minimum punishment has been increased from rigorous imprisonment of 7 years to 10 years, “extendable to life imprisonment”.
The proposed Ordinance also makes it difficult for those accused of raping or gangraping a child under 16 to obtain bail, removing the provision for anticipatory bail for such a person. “It has also been provided that court has to give a notice of 15 days to the public prosecutor and the representative of the victim before deciding bail applications in case of rape of a girl under 16 years of age,” the government said in a statement.
On Saturday, after clearing the Ordinance, the government said in a statement, “It (Ordinance) will provide effective deterrence against commission of rape and instilling a sense of security among women and especially young girls in the country.” The proposed amendment seeks to amend the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the Evidence Act, the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act to introduce a new provision to sentence convicts of such crimes to death.
According to data of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) for 2016, incidents of rape of children increased by over 82 per cent compared to 2015. The data shows that while in 2015, 10,854 cases of rape were registered across the country under Section 376 of the IPC and Sections 4 and 6 of the POCSO Act, the number went up to 19,765 in 2016.
The proposed Ordinance sets a time-limit of two months for investigation and trial in rape cases to be completed and prescribes a time limit of six months for disposal of appeals in rape cases.
It also says NCRB will maintain a national database and profile of sexual offenders and the data collected will be regularly shared with states and union territories for tracking, monitoring and investigation, including verification of antecedents by police.
The Union Cabinet also set a deadline of three months to set up new fast-track courts in consultation with States and UTs and High Courts, create new posts of public prosecutors, ensure special forensic kits for rape cases at all police stations and hospitals, provide manpower for investigation of rape cases and set up special forensic labs in each State/UT exclusively for rape cases.