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‘Death penalty to Child rapists’, how effective will the new ordinance be?

The central cabinet has approved an ordinance that prescribes death penalty to people who rape girls under the age of 12. But how practical and ‘revolutionary’ it really is? Here is a critical review.

The central government on Friday approved an ordinance that prescribes death penalty for perpetrators where the victim is a girl under the age of 12. The decision came in light of the ongoing case of Alakh Alok Srivastava v Union of India that was filed by the petitioner in the light of the recent rape case in Delhi wherein the accused, a 28-year old, had raped an 8-month old girl. It was petitioned that new guidelines be framed to ensure that as per the POSCO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) Act, the case be concluded within the period of six months.

The apex court had sent an inquiry to all high courts asking them to submit their entries to the Supreme Court registry of all district wise pending matters under the POSCO Act.

The ordinance comes in the light of recent brutal Kathua rape case. The is in a state of uproar after the matter took a political turn and the extensive media coverage as well. People are taking to streets to demand justice for the victim that was brutally raped and murdered. The ordinance, other than the death penalty also lays down provision for the punishment for guilty if the girl is below the age of 16. The imprisonment sentence has been increased from 10 years to 20 years.

While this is a very commendable step on the onset, but how effective will this really be? Let us look at a few sided to the story that are less known.

As is obvious, the ordinance has come more to sooth the enraged public. The first proof to this assumption comes in the very wording of the order. It clearly says that person who rapes a ‘girl’ under the age of 12. While the POSCO act remains gender neutral, why does the order exclude a boy from seeking the recourse as a girl? Is a molested boy under the age of 12 any less innocent? Any less precious?

Second proof to said assumption is how poorly thought out this order is. Why is the age limit set at 12? What about a victim that is 13 years old? Or 14? Or even 16 for that matter? Does a few more years to the age of a victim lessen the absolute hellishness of the crime? By what logic is this discrimination justified?

Third, is the very real and genuine fear that this order result in fewer survivors of rape left alive. The rapists are now more likely to kill the victim to avoid detection. It might even result in fewer such cases being reported. How so? The answer to that is in the numbers. According to the National Crime Bureau report for the year 2016, in 94% cases of child rape, the accused was someone from within the social circle of the child. Usually a father, brother, or some other male relative. In light of the new law, families will try to cover to the incidence for the fear of social exclusion and shame which comes to the victim in the present Indian society. It might even lessen the rate of conviction from the already dismal 24%.

This ordinance is clearly a knee jerk reaction to appease the masses. It is the election year. The ruling party clearly wants to project a pro-active and tough-on-crime image. But only a simple logical analysis of the order is enough to understand how truly shoddy and pathetic this attempt truly is. There is a very real danger of the situation being worsened instead of being improved. What is needed is a criminal justice system that cares more about the rights of the victim rather than that of the accused or how the public might perceive a particular step.