Lawmakers not exempt from strict child abuse law: Irani

Union Minister of Women and Child Development Smriti Irani in the Lok Sabha. (File Photo) (LSTV/PTI Photo)

Lawmakers facing charges of heinous crimes were not immune from death penalty provisions in various laws, Women and Child Development Minister Smriti Irani said on Thursday as Parliament approved stricter punishments for child sex abuse.

Irani's assertion in the Lok Sabha came at a time when BJP appeared to be pushed to a corner over the Unnao rape case, in which Kuldeep Singh Sengar, a BJP legislator in the UP assembly, is a key accused. Buckling under pressure, the BJP expelled Sengar from the party on Thursday.

“If a heinous crime is committed our Parliament has empowered judges, on the basis of evidence to award the death penalty. And Modi government, with the blessings of this Parliament, has nowhere mentioned in the law that MPs or MLAs were exempt from this,” Irani said responding to a discussion on the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill.

The Lok Sabha passed the Bill unanimously. The Rajya Sabha had passed the Bill last week.

The bill that provides the death penalty for aggravated sexual assault on children and stricter punishments for other crimes against minors.

Irani said the Bill was aimed at making offences against children gender-neutral and defines child pornography and makes in punishable.

“Through POCSO Amendment Bill 2019, Parliament has for the first time identified the threat posed by child pornography and recognised it as a criminal offence with the quantum of punishment ranging from fine of Rs 5,000 to imprisonment up to seven years,” Irani said.

She said in cases of aggravated sexual assault, the Bill introduces minimum imprisonment of 20 years or for the remainder of natural life and death penalty in rare cases as per the courts’ discretion.

Cutting across party lines, members supported amendments to POCSO Act though some demanded that Bill be referred to the standing committee or select committee as it makes certain offences punishable with death.

Regretting that 5,000 persons followed the child pornography site operated by a person, Irani said, "this is a matter of grave concern for the society. The site had even shown the rape of a minor girl, he added.

Recalling a case wherein children were administered drugs and hormones to make them sexually active, she said, the law is aimed at providing stringent punishment to such offenders.

"We want to provide added protection to children...in rarest of rare cases death (penalty)," she added.

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