President Ram Nath Kovind on Sunday gave his assent to an Ordinance permitting death penalty for those convicted of raping girls below the age of 12.
The Union Cabinet on Saturday approved the Ordinance to allow courts to award the death penalty for the crime.
The Ordinance provides for death sentence, imprisonment for life or a minimum sentence of 20 years for the rape of a child aged below 12.
The prison sentence for the rape of a girl below 16 would be a minimum of 20 years but extendable to life imprisonment, while that for gang rape of a girl below 16 would be imprisonment for life.
The Ordinance also provides that investigation of all cases of rape shall be completed within two months.
The deadline for the completion of trial in all rape cases will be two months.
A six-month time limit for the disposal of appeals in rape cases has also been prescribed.
Reject death penalty ordinance: activists
Jurists, social activists and families of child rape survivors have urged parliamentarians to reject the ordinance on death penalty for rape of girls below 12 years and condemned it as a “populist move” which will prove “disastrous” for the safety of children.
Pointing out that the punishment prescribed for rape of children below 12 years under the Indian Penal Code and Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act is “stringent, sufficient and proportionate”, they said the focus should be on reform of the criminal justice system so that trials can be completed in a time-bound manner and perpetrators do not walk free.
President Ram Nath Kovind promulgated the Ordinance on Sunday, which will have to be ratified by Parliament within six weeks.
“Death penalty diverts attention from problems ailing the criminal justice system such as poor investigation, lack of crime prevention and abuse of rights of victims,” said former Chief Justice of Delhi High Court A.P. Shah at a press conference on Monday.
He referred to the poor conviction rate of 24% for cases under the POCSO Act and a high pendency of 89.6% and said there was a need to address these flaws.
“I appeal to all MPs to reject this law as it will cause a considerable harm to children.
It is more of a political decision rather than a step to fight the menace of sexual violence against children,” Justice Shah said.
Lawyer Vrinda Grover said the provision of fast track courts in the Ordinance is misleading as there are not enough judges.
Without investing in more judges it will be impossible to finish trials in two months, as laid down in the Ordinance, she said.