A staggering 24,212 cases of child-rape were filed in the first six months of this year, the Supreme Court was informed. Taking Suo Motu notice of the alarming situation, the apex court has fixed Monday, July 15 for further hearing in the case.
The Union Cabinet, meanwhile, has approved death penalty to the maximum punishment in the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POSCO) Act, 2012. The POCSO (Amendment) Bill, 2019 had been introduced in the 16th Lok Sabha but lapsed when its term got over. With a large number of cases of child rape being reported this year, the Union Cabinet approved amendments to POCSO allowing death penalty for all cases of 'aggravated penetrative sexual assault' against children.
These amendments now cover 21 kinds of sexual crimes that come under the definition of aggravated penetrative sexual assault against children.
This Amendment has enhanced the minimum punishment in such cases from the existing 10 years to 20 years and the maximum punishment to life imprisonment or death penalty.
While the Government expects death penalty and longer prison sentences to act as deterrents and ensure safety and dignity for vulnerable children, social workers and activists working in the field remain sceptical.
The amendments were hurriedly introduced last year, when Union Minister Maneka Gandhi’s hands were forced by a combative chairman of Delhi Women’s Commission Swati Maliwal, who demanded death penalty for child rapists.
Stringent provisions introduced after the Nirbhaya rape and murder case of 2012 have failed to improve the situation. And introduction of death penalty, activists apprehend, may prompt culprits to kill the victims to prevent them from identifying culprits or depose against them.
While the law prescribes that a policeman refusing to lodge an FIR complaining rape is also liable to land in jail, not a single policeman has actually landed in jail so far.
Out of the 24,212 cases of child rape filed between January and June, 2019, 11,981 are said to be under investigation and 12,231 charge sheets are said to have been filed.
However, only in four percent of the cases (911) have the courts passed a sentence.
Shortage of police and barely seven to eight per cent of the police force comprising women, a large number of cases, it is feared, go unreported.
At a review meeting organized by Delhi Police, at least 12 of the 30 counsellors present informed that SHOs refuse to lodge FIRs, especially at night. The law requires that counsellors living in far-flung areas are also provided transport to enable them to reach the police station. But Delhi Police pleaded helplessness and cited lack of resources. The situation elsewhere in the country can easily be imagined.
Even in the national capital, rape victims are often made to wait for three to four hours before the FIR is lodged. The inordinately long time and the delay often are enough to dissuade the victims from lodging the complaint.
Rape victims have often committed suicide after registering complaints. The accused are often released on bail and succeed in intimidating the victims.
Under the law if children aged 16 or 17 have even consensual sex, it would be held as rape. Imprisonment or death sentence in such cases, fear activists, will cause havoc in society.
"Come on, this is modern India" said an activist "where children have access to mobiles, Internet and all kinds of movies they can watch on Netflix. If these children are in love and of their own free will they decide to experiment with sex, treating it as rape would be disastrous."