As the conscience of the nation was wrenched by two sickening cases of abuse of children, the Narendra Modi has finally come out of its stupor and promulgated an ordinance which seeks to give death penalty for rape of minors below the age of 12 years. The move comes after a national outcry after the Kathua and Unnao rape cases.

The new law

Raping a child below 12 years will now invite the death penalty. In a move which has been hailed as a long overdue measure, the Union Cabinet in a meeting with the Prime Minister has given its nod to an ordinance which seeks to provide the death penalty for raping a child below 12 years.

The move came immediately after the Ministry of Woman and Child Development said to the highest court of the land that it is proposing the death penalty for those convicted of raping children. The Apex Court was informed that taking cognizance of the fact that children are brutally abused in the most inhuman manner, the POSCO Act is being amended to give the death penalty to those convicted of such crimes.

Nirbhaya rape case

It must be remembered that the POSCO act was promulgated after the horrific Nirbhaya Rape incident on December 16, 2012. Nirbhaya was brutally raped and died after a valiant fight after a fortnight. The POSCO act made it possible to prosecute juveniles who are below the age of 18 years.

In another significant development, India will now keep a database of sex offender’s database, and the database will be available for law enforcement officers for keeping a close watch on their activities.

The database will be regularly updated and shared between all states and union territories. India will only become the eighth nation in the world to have such a database.

The move immediately came after the Cabinet approved promulgation of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2018 which sought capital punishment against such offenders. The database will also use by the police to verify antecedents of persons.

However, the move is controversial, and this can be gauged by the fact that only eight nations have such a database.

Skeptics say that the move will give rise to increased surveillance and loss of privacy. It also negates the fundamental principle of rehabilitating such offenders and also will give rise to social stigma.

Registration for such offenders means they will have all avenues of rehabilitation including job prospects, forfeiting social security schemes and the risk of future arrests by suspicion by the police. The US has an extensive database, and its law enforcement agencies follow such cases on a priority basis. Supreme Court advocate K V Dhananjay, however, informed that there had not been any significant reduction in such crimes in the US.

Database to be maintained

Statistics reveal that most abuse of children is done by close relatives or people who are well known to the victim. Experts warn that such a database will lead to nonreporting of violations because of the social stigma attached to such crimes and often the victim face social ostracization.

Across the world maintenance of such a database has not led to a fall in crimes against children. The Middle East has some of the most stringent punishment for such crimes, but there has not been a reduction in child abuse cases.

In the USA, the database is made public, but in other nations where the database of child abuse offenders is kept, it is only for the use of law enforcement agencies. It is not clear if the database in India will be made public.

Actor turned politician Kamal Hassan wondered why the death penalty is only for raping minors and not for those in the age range of 14-16. He said, " Why is the death penalty only for the rape of girls aged under 12... what about 14, 15, and 16-year-olds, are they not children too.?It will take time for them too (14-16 year-olds) to blossom as women. I do not know how to view it."

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