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Does India need a national sex offenders registry? Read experts’ views

“In case of a man of privilege, they say the law is too harsh; if it’s a poor, homeless boy, then you want a SOR and if it’s a minor, you say the child is too young,” says Vani.

rape, delhi rape, school rape, child rape, 5 year old rape, POCSO, shahdara school rape, shahdara, delhi news, indian express news In India, 95.5% of the times a rape is committed by a person/s known to the victim . The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data of 2015 states that out of the total 34,651 reported rape cases, 33,098 were committed by people known to the victim. (Representational Image)

The Kerala government in February this year announced to launch a registry of sex offenders, the first of its kind in the country. The registry will have all identification details of sex offenders in public domain. A few days ago, Hyderabad Police, too, said such a registry, which would serve as a deterrence mechanism for crime, is in process.

While the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) proposed draft guidelines for a national Sex Offenders Registry (SOR) on May 10, 2016, not much has moved since. Various rights activists, including Maneka Gandhi, have been raising demands for SORs.

Such registries are operational in the US, UK, Australia and many other countries since over a decade. While SORs in Kerala and Hyderabad as well as the national SOR would be on the lines of such registries abroad, the jury is still out on their usefulness.

What is an SOR?

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The sex offender registry is essentially a database of convicted sex offenders maintained by authorities so as to keep track of their activities. It mostly includes also those who have served their time. A a registered sex offender is supposed to keep the agencies updated of his home and workplace details,

Flavia Agnes, lawyer and co-founder of Majlis law firm, while speaking to indianexpress.com, defined SOR thus: “It is a registry maintained by the police to warn the public about potential offenders based on their past history.”

What is MHA’s draft guidelines?

The MHA’s proposed draft guidelines for the SOR includes offences like rape, voyeurism, stalking and aggravated sexual assault under which individuals would be registered in the SOR. The then Minister of State for Home Affairs, Haribhai Parathibhai Chaudhary, stated a possibility of including juvenile offenders in the registry. This is the Centre’s first draft proposal on National SOR.

The draft guidelines also stated specific information of the offenders would be collected at the time of registration like, name and aliases – registration of primary or given name, nicknames, pseudonyms, Interact identifiers and addresses, telephone numbers, addresses including temporary lodging information, travel and immigration documents, employment information, professional licenses, school/ college/institute information, vehicle information, date of birth, criminal history, current photograph, fingerprints and palm prints, DNA sample, driver’s license, identification card, PAN card number, AADHAR card number and voter ID No.

What do those favouring SOR say?

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Chairperson of the Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) Swati Maliwal wants an SOR to be urgently in place. Emphasising that there is on the rise in cases of sexual offences against women and children, Maliwal says: “A few days ago, a 100-year-old woman was raped and we hear cases of minor being raped all the time. What option do we have?”

In a letter to the then Law minister D V Sadanand Gowda in 2015, Union Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi had demanded immediate setting up of an SOR. Her demand came following the Nirbhaya case. She had called attention to the need for an SRO earlier this year after a 38-year-old man was arrested on charges of abducting hundreds of girls and sexually assaulting them.

The contrarian view

Amid strong voices in favour of SOR, however, questions have been raised over its effectiveness. Apart from primary debatable issues like the crimes under which a convict would be termed as a sexual offender and the duration within which an individual shall remain an offender, there are a number of other thorny issues.

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Rejecting the SOR outright, Vani Subramanian, member of Saheli, spoke to indianexpress.com and said, “Bringing the SOR is not a good idea. This idea comes from western countries. It does not work judicially and socially.”

In India, 95.5% of the times a rape is committed by a person/s known to the victim . The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data of 2015 states that out of the total 34,651 reported rape cases, 33,098 were committed by people known to the victim.

On similar lines, Agnes opines, “The problem with SOR is that it is based on the notion that the offender is an outsider and he is prone to commit sexual crimes. What comes before our eyes is the Nirbhaya and Shakti Mills kind of situation. But most sexual offences are committed by known persons. There are a significant number of cases where the father/step father is the offender. There are also other family members, neighbours etc. who are the offenders. In such a case how will the SOR help?”

In the US, too, out of the 1.000 rape cases, only 310 are reported to the police.

Moreover, it is yet to be established if SOR reduces crime rate or not.

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Subramanian says: “There are two reasons why we should not have a SOR, First it is not effective in stopping crime. There is no data to show that crime reduces once SOR is in place and secondly the idea itself is fundamentally skewed.”

Vani further pointed out that SOR would not be effective as it would not apply to all and end up creating divisions within the society on the basis of caste and minorities.

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“In case of a man of privilege, they say the law is too harsh; if it’s a poor, homeless boy, then you want a SOR and if it’s a minor, you say the child is too young,” says Vani.

Foreign university researchers have leaned towards negligible effect on the crime rate and public safety. Such studies also show that people registered under SOR are prone to no or worse behavioural changes than people who do not register.

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Holding her ground, Agnes, too, says, “I don’t think it will be of any help to the citizens. Also studies indicate that wherever SOR are in place the crime rate has not come down.”

Then there is also difference of opinion over the stage when the accused should be listed under the SOR. From the commission of a crime to the judgment day, a lengthy process is followed where an alleged accused is either acquitted or convicted. During such process, a court could either sentence the accused or free him of all charges. Therefore, the question arises when should an accused register himself under the SOR.

US follows a norm where the onus of registering oneself as an offender with the law enforcement lies on the offender.

“There should be regular monitoring by the authorities so that if and when the accused is relieved off his charges, his name could be erased from the registry,” said Maliwal.

Another issue circling the question at hand is the lengthy time duration during which cases in high courts and Supreme Court lie pending. Ideally Indian courts take years to reach a conclusion and pass a judgment and the fate of the accused, to be termed as an offender, would remain hanging.

Agnes said, “At what stage do you include the names – at the stage of filing the FIR, after conviction by trial court/high court/Supreme Court? Chances of acquittal are very high. We cannot include the name of persons who are acquitted in this list. And after the final verdict of SC which may take around 15-20 years including the name in the registry will not serve any purpose.”

Speaking on punishment of a crime, Vani says, “If someone has done their time, have they not served for their crime? They will never have a chance to reform if SOR is brought in. Every individual should have a fair chance of integrating in a society.”

“We’ll be fragmenting the society further, complicate the justice, create more villains and more women will be silenced because of this,” concluded Vani.

First published on: 21-11-2017 at 03:37:08 pm
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