Legal experts say it could increase under-reporting of cases and put the lives of children in danger.
The Madhya Pradesh cabinet on 27 November cleared a proposal to amend the law so that those found guilty of raping children aged 12 or below could be sentenced to death. The state assembly cleared the Dand Vidhi (Madhya Pradesh Sanshodhan) Vidheyak, 2017 unanimously Monday. Legal experts had earlier condemned the bill saying it could have an adverse effect.
“A lot of sexual violence against children occurs within the family and by known persons—which has significantly contributed to under-reporting. Harsher punishment like the death penalty is only going to worsen that problem,” said Dr. Anup Surendranath, Director of the Centre on the Death Penalty, National Law University, Delhi.
“The issue itself is extremely complicated that requires well thought out responses rather than this sort of political grandstanding,” he said.
Studies conducted by the NLSIU’s Centre for Child and the Law in five states have shown that children turned hostile in cases in which the perpetrator was the father or a relative, said Swagata Raha, a legal researcher.
“The Madhya Pradesh government’s proposal will have the reverse effect. It will endanger children, who may be murdered by their perpetrator. Or it will silence them because they wouldn’t want to be burdened with the guilt of sending their family members or neighbours to the gallows,” Raha said.
Mrinal Satish, executive director at the Centre for Constitutional Law, Policy and Governance at the National Law University in Delhi questioned why life imprisonment was not sufficient in such cases.
“After the 2013 amendment, if you look at sub-section 2 of Section 377 it says that rape of a girl under the age of 16 is considered aggravated rape for which the minimum sentence is 10 years, and the maximum sentence is for the rest of the person’s natural life,” Satish said.
“So when you have the capacity to sentence a person to imprisonment for the rest of his natural life, why is that not sufficient and why do you need to execute that person?” he said.
The world over, countries are moving towards abolishing the death penalty as it is seen to be counter-productive. Even the Law Commission, in a 2015 report, said death penalty should be abolished in all circumstances except in cases of terrorism, Satish said.
Editor’s Note: The article was originally published when the bill was cleared by the Madhya Pradesh cabinet.