New Delhi: The Union cabinet on Saturday approved the promulgation of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2018 for death penalty to those convicted of raping children below 12 years of age.

The government will look at making changes in the existing law when the Parliament is in session in order to bring this into effect.

This move comes in the backdrop of the nationwide outrage over the alleged rape and murder of an eight-years old girl in Kathua district of Jammu & Kashmir and the rape of another minor in Unnao by a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) legislator.

The approval of the cabinet chaired by Prime Minister, Narendra Modi will serve to strengthening the existing legal provisions and act as an effective deterrence against commission of rape against minors and women in the country.

Apart from death penalty, the Centre has also decided to put in place a number of measures for speedy investigation and trial of rape cases.

These include an increase in minimum imprisonment from 7 to 10 years in cases of rape of women and increase from 10 to 20 years imprisonment for rape of a girl below 16 years of age. The punishment for gang-rape of a girl (irrespective of age) will invariably be imprisonment for rest of life of the convict.

It has also sought to set a two-month time line each for completion of investigation into rape cases and trial of accused. A six-month time line has been set for disposal of appeals in rape cases under the ordinance.

Seeking to tighten the law, it has been proposed that there would be no provision for anticipatory bail for a person accused of rape or gang-rape of a girl under 16 years. New fast track courts would also be set up in consultation with states/UTs and high courts for speedy redressal.

On 20 April, the Centre had informed the Supreme Court that it was considering amending the law to introduce death penalty to those convicted of sexually abusing children of 12 years of age or below.

Currently, under the provisions of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POSCO) Act, 2012, the maximum punishment for aggravated sexual assault on minors is life imprisonment. The law deals with sexual offences against those below the age of 18 years.

Safety of women has been a long standing electoral promise of the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) as the Union cabinet approved death penalty for people involved in raping girls blow 12-years-old. Senior leaders of the BJP, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, had promised during 2014 general elections campaign that the union government under BJP would take tough steps for the security of women and girls in the country.

The proposed in the law comes at a time when the NDA government is under intense pressure from the opposition after one of the BJP legislators in Uttar Pradesh was accused of raping a minor girl. Similarly, two BJP leaders who were ministers in the Jammu and Kashmir government had to resign from the state cabinet after the attended a public meeting in support of accused who had allegedly gang raped an 8-year-old girl.

Soon after the incidents, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Ram Nath Kovind both stepped in and assured that people involved in these crimes would be punished and also appealed to the people to work towards safety of girls and women in the country.

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