On April 22, 2018, India’s government announced that they would bring a change to their laws regarding convicted child rapists involving victims below the age of 12. The current maximum punishment of life imprisonment will now change to the capital punishment – the death penalty. The announcement was made as a result of public pressure in conjunction with a recent series of brutal and high-profile cases. Although it may seem like an effective method to drastically reduce rape crimes, people should look at the possible negative implications and suggest an alternate, more sustainable approach to this pressing issue.
On the face of it, the announcement was celebrated because of its seemingly effective prospects. Abha Singh, a lawyer, commended the government’s action as it would also reduce sexual crimes against women. Additionally, she was practical in addressing the limitations of the speed in investigating crimes and convicting the perpetrators. She urged that a time frame should be set in order to prevent massive delays that would allow perpetrators to remain unconvicted. Gyan Sudha Misra, a Former Supreme Court judge, supported the government’s movement by giving insight into the procedures of court trials. Gyan said that fast-track procedures are needed to produce a fast-track trial.
However, the background of these sexual crimes should be taken into consideration as such a drastic and harsh punishment may not sustain a long-term effect. Dr. Anup Surendranath, the Director of the Centre on the Death Penalty from the National Law University in Delhi, shed some light regarding the background and culture of these rape cases in India. He said that a lot of the sexual violence in India stems from family members or close relatives. This contributes to one of the reasons there has been an under-reporting of rape cases. He furthered his analysis by commenting that a death penalty would only cause an increase in under-reporting of such cases, requiring more thorough planning to combat this issue.
The Programmes Director of Amnesty International India Asmita Basu raised another issue. With the Justice Verma Committee and India’s Law Commission joining Amnesty’s objection to the death penalty for sexual offences, Asmita was not convinced that it would be a better deterrent than imprisonment. Besides the death penalty being a human rights violation, the director argued that such a harsh punishment could endanger children’s lives. Victims might be murdered instead, as a result of the perpetrators fearing the capital punishment, or the victims might silence themselves out of guilt for sending their family members to die.
Instead of simply implementing a stricter law and penalty, the government should take into consideration the nature and background of the issue in order to combat the root of the problem. A more sustainable model would be a solution that can increase awareness in the severity of such heinous crimes, deterring offences and proposing ways to uncover incidents which are not reported, all while protecting the safety of the children. Finally, it should not be forgotten that solutions should be aligned with combating sexual crimes against adult women as well.
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