Following a nationwide uproar over the rape of two minors in Kathua and Unnao, the Union Cabinet, in its meeting on Saturday, took a decision to bring an Ordinance to award death penalty to those convicted of sexually assaulting a child.
Law Ministry sources say that they have approved a proposal received from the Ministry of Women and Child Development (MoWCD) to amend the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012, and a final decision to bring it in the form of an Ordinance was taken at the Cabinet meeting.
Tracking down sexual crimes has proved difficult because — as pointed out by National Crime Records Bureau reports since 2014 — in over 90% of such crimes, the perpetrators are known to the victim. A report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs noted that “child sexual abuse and related crimes remain overwhelmingly under-reported due to the associated stigma and propensity of parents/guardians to not involve the police in these matters”. A study by the National Law School of India University (NLSUI) also reported that in 67% of child rape cases, the survivors gave up on the trial or changed their statement. Therefore, introducing the death penalty in the POCSO Act will aggravate this problem.
The demand for death penalty for sexual crimes stems primarily from a society’s desire for revenge, not redress. A growing body of literature now emphasises that the death penalty is not a deterrent against any kind of crime — better policing, social welfare and effective implementation of the due processes are. Also, separate courtrooms exclusively for child abuse cases should be established.