In the wake of an increase in incidents of rape of minors, the Union Cabinet on Saturday approved a number of measures to strengthen the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.
As per government sources, the cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, approved the promulgation of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2018, for effective deterrence against commission of rape, thereby instilling a sense of security among women and especially young girls in the country.
Taking cognisance of the recent incidents of rape in various parts of the country, the cabinet approved an ordinance to be promulgated to provide for stringent punishment for perpetrators of rape particularly of girls below 16 years, and death penalty to be awarded to rapists of girls below 12 years of age.
The minimum punishment in case of rape of women has been increased from rigorous imprisonment of 7 to 10 years, extendable to life imprisonment. In case of rape of a girl under 16 years, minimum punishment has been increased from 10 to 20 years, extendable to life imprisonment.
In terms of gangrape, the cabinet stated that the punishment for the gang rape of a girl under 16 years of age will invariably be imprisonment for the rest of the life of the convict.
With regards to rape or gangrape of a girl below the age of 12, the cabinet said the accused would be sent to 20 years' imprisonment, imprisonment for life or death.
The cabinet also decided to put in place a number of measures for speedy investigation and trial of rape cases. It has been prescribed that the time limit for investigation of all rape cases has to be mandatorily completed within two months. Furthermore, the time limit for completion of trial of all rape cases has been ascertained as two months.
The cabinet has also provided for a six month time limit for disposal of appeals in rape cases.
Among other provisions of the Ordinance, the cabinet prescribed that there will be no provision for anticipatory bail for a person accused of rape or gang rape of a girl under 16 years. It has also been provided that the court would have to give a 15-day notice to the Public Prosecutor and representative of the victim before deciding bail applications in the aforementioned category.
?In order to give effect to the legal provisions and to improve the capacity of criminal justice system to deal with rape cases, the cabinet stated that new fast track courts will be set up in consultation with states/UTs and High Courts. It also mandated the creation of new posts of public prosecutors and related infrastructure in consultation with states and union territories.
The cabinet has also provided for special forensic kits for rape cases to all police stations and hospitals, forensic labs in each state and union territory and dedicated manpower for investigation in a time bound manner.
Furthermore, the National Crime Records Bureau has been directed to maintain a national database and profile of sexual offenders. This data will be regularly shared with States/UTs for tracking, monitoring and investigation, including verification of antecedents by police.
The cabinet also stated that the present scheme of One Stop Centres for assistance to rape victims will be extended to all districts in the country.
In the wake of the gang-rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Jammu and Kashmir's Kathua district, Union Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi had expressed her ministry's intention to amend the POCSO to make provision for death penalty in such cases.
Soon after, the Centre submitted its report while responding to a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by Advocate Alakh Alok Srivastava, seeking maximum sentence of death penalty to those offenders involved in the rape and brutal murder of children between the age group of 0 to 12.
The Supreme Court's three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra along with Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud, fixed the matter for further hearing to April 27.