Indian Catholic leaders doubt death penalty will deter child rapists
India’s parliament has passed a law allowing the death penalty for people convicted of raping girls younger than 12, but Catholic Church officials expressed doubt that it will curb increasing sexual violence against children across the country.
The bill replaces an emergency amendment to a criminal law adopted in April following national outcry over the rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Kashmir in January and other shocking attacks across the country, ucanews.com reported.
India’s penal code had provisions to punish rapists with a seven-year jail term but had no harsher punishment for those convicted of raping girls.
The new law, approved on 30th July, increases the minimum punishment for rape of women to 10 years of imprisonment. Those convicted of gang rape of girls younger than 12 either will be executed or jailed for life. Those convicted of gang rape of girls younger than 16 will be jailed for life.
The new law states that an investigation and trial should be completed within two months in the cases of sexual attacks on minors, while appeals should be resolved within six months. The law allows no provision for bail.
Home Affairs Minister Kiren Rijiju told reporters that the law aims to curb increasing violence against children.
India’s official crime data show the number of reported rapes of children increased from 8,541 in 2012 to 19,765 in 2016.
However, Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, said the Church cannot accept the death penalty no matter how grave the crime.
“The Catholic Church is against the death penalty, but the law of the land will take its stand and we respect it. But our biggest question is, will it help solve the issues?” he told ucanews.com.
Sir Mary Scaria, an Indian Supreme Court lawyer, said rape cases will not stop until offenders are taught to respect their mothers and sisters.
“Why all of a sudden the new law? We have a very good judiciary system which can tackle any crime, be it rape or murder. Is the government serious about it?” she asked, suggesting the government move was to appease public appeals for stringent punishment of child rapists.
Picture: A student of All Ladakh Association of Kashmir holds a placard during a protest calling for justice in the rape and murder case of an eight-year-old nomadic girl in Srinagar, India, on 16th April. India has confirmed the death penalty for the child rapists, but Catholic Church officials doubt it will curb sexual violence. (CNS photo/Farooq Khan, EPA).