Offenders’ registry: handle with care

The initiative to draw up a national registry of sexual offenders is intended to address the growing problem of sexual offences against women and children. The union home ministry launched the registry recently and its database includes the names, addresses, photographs, fingerprints and other details of people who have been convicted in the country for various sexual offences. At present, the registry has some 4.4 lakh names and it will be maintained by the National Crime Records Bureau. It will be revised and updated with data collected from the state police forces. The idea is to facilitate better and efficient investigation of sexual crimes and to help the process of monitoring of such crimes. The police can use the data for background checks and verifications. The government hopes that it will have a deterrent effect. The registry has graded databases and will retain data on “low danger’’ offenders for 15 years, those who pose “moderate danger’’ for 25 years and on habitual offenders for life. 

There are eight other countries that maintain such a register. The data is available only to law enforcement agencies in all of them, except the US, where it is available to the public. India’s registry is not open to the public. Making the list public would stigmatise the people and make social and other activities difficult for them. This might lead some of them to repeat offences. This also goes against the idea, which is basic to our system of justice, that offenders have the right to reform and should be given opportunities for that. A person cannot be called and treated as an offender forever just because he has committed one crime. The Canadian registry even gives an opportunity to an offender to get delisted by making amends and convincing a judge that he has reformed. Such a clause would give a positive push and incentive to offenders to act as good citizens and show the society that they have changed. 

The need and demand for such a registry arise from the sense that sexual crimes against women and children have increased in the recent past. The latest NCRB data for 2015-16 shows a 12% increase in the number of rapes. This may be because more crimes are reported now. But the effect is the same and so there is a case for more tools and methods to deal with the crimes. The registry is one such, and it has some use. But it must not be misused and the government must keep its promise that the database will not compromise any individual’s privacy. 

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Offenders’ registry: handle with care

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