The move comes in the wake of nationwide outrage over the rape and murder of an 8-year-old girl in Kathua.

Union Cabinet approves ordinance on death penalty for rape of children below 12
news Law Saturday, April 21, 2018 - 18:57

The Union Cabinet, at a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on Saturday approved an ordinance allowing courts to pronounce the death penalty for those convicted of raping children below the age of 12.

The decision came a day after the Ministry of Women and Child Development told the Supreme Court that it was proposing the death penalty for those convicted of raping children.

The Ministry had told the apex court that the government was "sensitive to the plight of young children" brutally abused in the most horrific manner, and proposed to amend the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act by introducing the death penalty to the convicts of child rapes.

The Cabinet move came in the backdrop of nationwide outrage over the rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir, and other instances in different parts of the country including a nine-year-old girl in Surat.

The POCSO Act was formulated in order to effectively address sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children.

The debate around death penalty for child rapists has been a longstanding one. While supporters of death penalty are of the view that a horrific crime such as child sexual abuse should only be met with the strictest of punishments for the perpetrators, there are other complex layers to the issue that often go unheard. 

For instance, the conviction rate in these cases continue to be very low and many have pointed out that just bringing in death penalty is unlikely to increase conviction or impact implementation of laws and the slow moving judicial process.

Others have pointed out why the age limit for the child victim has been set at 12 when legally a minor is anyone who is below 18 years of age.

Some feel that the government should instead be focusing on real issues such as bring down crimes rates, providing a support structure for survivors, a strong witness protection programme and other institutional failures.

Experts and activists TNM spoke to earlier expressed their reservations about introducing death penalty for child rapists on several counts.

For instance, in a majority of child sexual abuse cases, the abuser is someone whom the child knows, and many a time, it is a family member.

"Are we expecting that children will come forward and then disclose that the abuse has been perpetrated and then go ahead and testify against their fathers, uncles, brothers or neighbours? Even after they know that their testimony may end up in somebody losing their lives. It is too much of a burden to put on that child," Bengaluru-based legal researcher Swagata Raha, said.

There is also no proper research that shows whether death penalty deters crime in anyway. Another question is whether a death penalty for rapists will endanger the lives of victims.

Read: Death penalty for rape of minor girls: Why experts don't think it's a good idea

(With IANS inputs)

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