Madhya Pradesh Proposes Death Penalty For Rapists In Under-12 Cases: A Closer Look

Madhya Pradesh wakes up after topping the list for highest number of rapes twice, but is capital punishment really the way to go?

Madhya Pradesh wakes up after topping the list for highest number of rapes twice, but is capital punishment really the way to go?

The rising reporting of rape crimes against young children has shocked us all. Now, it has made lawmakers sit up too.

On 4th Dec, Monday, the Madhya Pradesh State Assembly unanimously passed a bill aimed at amending the Indian Penal Code (IPC) to impose the death penalty on those found guilty of raping girls of 12 and below, called Dand Vidhi (Madhya Pradesh Sansodhan) Vidheyak, 2017.

The bill will now be sent to the President for his assent, after gaining which it will become law. 

What does this bill propose?

The bill proposes for an amendment in the Indian Penal Code Section 376A to provide either death penalty or a minimum term of 14-years rigorous imprisonment or life imprisonment till death for raping girls aged 12 or lesser. The minimum punishment for gang rape of a girl aged 12 or lower would also increase to 20 years rigorous imprisonment.

The bill also proposes making repeated stalking a non-bailable offence with 3 years of imprisonment and fine for the first offence. Second and subsequent offences would be punished with minimum 3 years and maximum of 7 years’ imprisonment. 

It also seeks to amend the law on harassment with 3 to 7 years’ imprisonment for a first offence and a minimum jail term of 7 to 10 years for subsequent offences.

Why was this bill passed?

National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) in its recent report revealed that 59% of the total rapes reported in the country in 2016 were against minor girls.

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Madhya Pradesh topped the list with 4,882 rape cases of the total reported, of which 2467 were against minors. In 2015 as well, Madhya Pradesh had the dubious distinction of having the highest number of rapes cases. With 1568 rape cases against children in 2015, the state has witnessed a 60% hike in the number in 2016.

The bill also came up after the uproar caused in the state over the gang rape of a 19-year old in Bhopal. The police refused to register an FIR and accused her of cooking up a ‘filmy’ story. On 10th November, the Madhya Pradesh High Court took suo moto action on the news report pertaining to the case. The High Court sought a status report within two weeks from the State about the disciplinary action taken against erring police officials who did not lodge an FIR. On 27th November, the state advocate asked for 3 weeks’ time to file the report on police officials, as reported by Live Law.

Is Capital Punishment the way to go?

While the Bill was passed unanimously by the assembly, there was an important point raised by opposition Congress member Dr. Govind Singh. He cautioned against the misuse of the bill, saying that the perpetrators may kill the victim in view of the death penalty. Since the punishment for murder and rape both be the same, the person committing rape may go on to kill the victim to destroy the evidence. Though there’s a need for stricter measures to instil fear in people committing rapes, the point raised by Dr. Singh is a valid one.

There also hasn’t been any talk (or action) on making the process of filing an FIR easier for the victim. As the recent case showed, the grave problem faced by the young woman was in the first step of filing of an FIR itself. The greater need of the hour is also sensitivity towards the victim and proper implementation of laws already in place.

This bill also raises the question of our ignorance of the rape and abuse of boys – it is not only young girls, but many boys too who are sexually abused. Any law dealing with the issue must take into account the safety and rights of all children.

Image credits Ramesh Lalwani; from a public protest in Delhi 2012, used under a Creative Commons license

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