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India prescribes death penalty for child rape

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The Indian government approved a new measure on Saturday that will prescribe capital punishment for anyone convicted of raping children under the age of 12. The move came after Prime Minister Narendra Modi called an emergency Cabinet meeting in the wake of a series of cases that sparked outrage and protests across the country, reported Deutsche Welle (Germany).

The recent rape and murder of an 8-year-old girl in Jammu-Kashmir state brought the matter of sexual violence against minors back into the national spotlight as locals accused the ruling Hindu nationalist party of siding with the perpetrator, as the victim was Muslim.

A similar incident occurred around the same time, when a girl was allegedly raped by a ruling party lawmaker in Uttar Pradesh state.

Nine suspects, including a politician and four police officials have been arrested in connection with the two cases.

Modi has been accused of failing to act quickly enough after the girls were attacked.

Stricter laws
New Delhi is trying once again to crack down on rampant violence against girls and women, having already passed stricter laws in 2013. At that time, lawmakers were responding to the gang rape and murder of a young woman on a bus in the capital, which led to a global outcry.

The new laws included doubling the prison sentence for rape to 2 years and criminalizing voyeurism and stalking.

Lawyer Abha Singh welcomed Saturday's measure, and said it would probably help deter men from attacking girls or women. However, she urged the government to do something about the notoriously backed-up Indian justice system, which currently has 30 million pending cases.

"The conviction rate in rape cases in India was only 28 percent, implying that 72 out of 100 suspects are going unpunished," she was quoted by the Associated Press as saying.

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Death penalty for rape of girls up to 12 years will deter the victim and their families from reporting such crimes instead of acting as a deterrent for criminals, said activists who slammed the government for its “knee-jerk reaction” in bringing an ordinance on the issue, reported Deccan Herald (India).

“In cases of child sexual assaults we know that most of these crimes are committed by people known to them [the victims] or those within the family. Can you imagine anyone coming forward to complain about such crimes knowing that death penalty is the punishment that maybe imposed. Is the government not going to push the crime further underground and disable the victim from coming forward,” asked activist and lawyer Vrinda Grover.

As per the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) data for 2016, 94.6% of total crimes against children under the POCSO Act as well as Section 376 are committed by either relatives or acquaintances.

Ms. Grover said that announcing a harsher penalty such as death may prove to be futile when the conviction rate under Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act is as low as 18%.

“Instead of investing their resources and attention to fixing the gaps in the legal system and creating a more enabling, accessible and sensitive legal system, they are just going to do a gimmick and silence and blunt the national outcry and international criticism. This is a grave crisis and the government has abdicated its responsibility in ensuring the safety and security of women and

Consultation denied
Bharti Ali, co-founder of HAQ: Centre for Child Rights, questioned the government’s decision to take the ordinance route. “What is the great hurry? Why can’t we have a more consultative process? Why are we not allowing democracy to function the way it should? There are constitutional processes built in to frame laws and policies,” Ms. Ali said.

She also questioned why sexual assaults against boys have been left unaddressed by the ordinance and why sentencing is being determined on the basis of age. “Are they saying some rape is okay and some rape is not okay?” Ms. Ali said.

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