New Delhi: A bill seeking to ensure the death penalty for aggravated sexual abuse of children and greater penalties for other crimes against minors was approved by Parliament after it was passed by the Lok Sabha on Thursday.
Piloting the Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses (Amendment) Bill, 2019, the Minister of Development for Women and Child, Smriti Irani, has stated that she aims to make gender crimes neutral. The bill, already passed by the Raja Sabha on July 29, defines child pornography, which makes it punishable.
The Bill on Amendments (Prevention) will be tabled in the Raja Sabha on Friday, with the BJP issuing a whip ordering all its MPs to attend the House.
Along with party lines, members supported amendments to the POCSO Act, although some demanded that the bill be referred to a standing committee or selection committee as it commits certain crimes punishable by death.
Seeking the passage of the bill in the Lok Sabha, Irani said it was not related to bank voting policy but to save India's future.
In an apparent reference to Congressman Ramia Haridas, who raised the issue of the rape of Unnao in the House, Iran said that the bill should not be viewed from a policy standpoint and should not be politicized for personal gain.
In response to Haridas Irani said it was very unfortunate that when she spoke, some of the members who supported her were actually having fun. She also said that the courts in this country have even the power to punish motor vehicles and lawmakers.
Bill, Irani said, will provide additional legal protection to 39 percent of the population or 43 crore children, whether they are a girl or a boy.
Among other things, she said Bill defines child pornography so that sexual predators who commit such heinous crimes are punished.
Regretting that 5,000 people are monitoring the site for person-directed child pornography, Iran said, "it's a matter of serious concern to the community. The site even showed the rape of a minor girl, "he added.
Recalling a case involving drugs and hormones in which children were sexually active, she said the law aims to provide for severe penalties for such offenders.
"We want to provide additional protection for children … in the rarest cases of death (punishment)," she added.
In response to the bill, Iran assured that a witness protection scheme had taken all measures, such as assessing the threat of the victim and witness and, if necessary, even changing their identities and others to ensure their safety.
Regarding the juvenile being involved in a sexual crime against children, the minister said the cases fall under the jewelry justice law and the death penalty can only be given if he is over 16 and the juvenile justice council finds that he has adult.
The minister acknowledged that the degree of conviction for sexual offenses was very slow and informed that 1023 fast courts across the country would be set up within the Nirbhaya Fund and 18 state governments had already taken on board the government.
She also said that a national database for such cases has been created and about 6.2 cases of sexual offenses have been registered in that database.
Sharing the details of the program for raising awareness among children, the minister said that CBSE would conduct programs at school across the country to familiarize children with good and bad touch.
She also said that over 40,000 teachers would also be trained for the same.
Participating in the discussion, Su Thirunavukkarasar (Cong) suggested that since the bill has a provision for the death penalty, it should be sent to the parliamentary committee for further scrutiny.
Rita Bahuguna Joshi (BJP) said the bill would go a long way in bringing criminals against children for reservation.
Kanimoji (DMK) said the bill should be sent to a committee or a standing committee, as a harsher sentence could deter people from reporting the crime.
While presiding over the proceedings, Bhartruhari Mahtab of the BJD indicated to Irani that the Hindi version of the POCSO bill uses the word "balakon", a term for young boys, while the English word for "children" is gender neutral.
She replied that the legislative department of the government had checked the bill and cleared it.
JD (U) Rajiv Singh Singh welcomed the bill, saying it would curb the growing trend in society for such vicious crimes.
However, he suggested that the government work to set up special courts throughout the country and ensure speedy lawsuits so that cases of sexual offenses against children are brought to a logical conclusion.
The short trial period will also minimize the chances of the accused to influence witnesses. Citing a study, he said that cases of child sexual abuse have increased by 500 percent.
TMC's Satabdi Roy wondered if the death penalty would deter criminals and asked the government to explain what it was doing to help the victims.
Shiv Sena Vinyak Raut supported the bill and sought a time-limited process for the accused.
BSP's Dane Ali also backed the bill, saying he supported the death penalty for those sentenced under the law, even though he was ideologically opposed to the death penalty. Ali (BSP) said it was against the death penalty for minors.
Hasnain Masoodi (NC) supported the bill, saying the proposed legislation was for 10 percent of the victims and that the remaining 90 percent needed to strengthen the prevention system.
"We need to strengthen the prevention mechanism," he said, adding that it was high time to put in place a strict and effective child protection law.
Amid opposition to the death penalty of minors by some members, Nishikant Duby (BJP) said the government had shown the power to come up with the death penalty. He also highlighted the need for a public awareness campaign.
Kalian Banerjee (AITC) expressed concern that the identity of the victim and his family had leaked out in the media, which he said should not happen.
At that time, Munde (BJP) emphasized rehabilitation of the victims.