Death for child rapists ill-conceived

It is a misconception that the death penalty would deter heinous crimes like rape, or any other crime. (DH file photo)

The government’s decision to amend the laws to award the death penalty for rape of minor girls is ill-considered and may turn out to be counter-productive. It has approved an ordinance to amend the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (Pocso) and other relevant laws to prescribe the death penalty for rape of children under 12 years of age. The demand for death penalty for child rape has arisen from many quarters, including from Union Minister Maneka Gandhi, in the wake of the rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Kathua in Jammu which outraged the nation. The ordinance is a knee-jerk reaction to it and may even be intended to get over the embarrassment caused by the protection given to the alleged rapists by the BJP’s leaders and ministers in Jammu & Kashmir. 

It is a misconception that the death penalty would deter heinous crimes like rape, or any other crime. It is not the severity of punishment but its certainty and the knowledge it would happen in quick time that would serve as effective deterrents. The J S Verma committee, set up after the Nirbhaya case in 2012, had rejected the award of the death penalty for rape. Child rights activists and criminologists are against the idea and have opposed the government’s ordinance. States like Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan have laws that prescribe the death penalty for child rapists. But child rapes are not fewer in these states. Just two days ago the rape and murder of a six-month-old bay was reported from Indore. Most rapes, especially child rapes, are not reported and the majority of them are committed by relatives or persons known to the victims. With the death penalty prescribed for the crime there will be less reporting of it. The rapist may even think of killing the victim to destroy evidence and to avoid being accused by her later. 

The conviction rate is a low 25%-35% in rape cases and lower at less than 20 % in child rape cases. Victims and witnesses frequently change their statements during trial out of pressure or for other reasons. More cases may collapse and convictions may fall further if the death penalty enters the statute book. Better reporting of crimes, efficient investigation and prosecution, a congenial environment in police stations and during trial in the courts and quick decisions are key factors in dealing with rape as a crime. Only very few countries, mostly Islamic, prescribe the death penalty for rape. When the world is increasingly turning away from it there is no justification for expanding its scope in India.

 

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