Members of the Lok Sabha on Thursday united to pass a bill providing for the death penalty for aggravated sexual assault on children.
The landmark legislation for child rights, the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, 2019, was passed by voice vote with members cutting across party lines to support the crucial legislation.
The bill is critical also because it clearly defines child pornography and makes it punishable.
The bill was passed by the Rajya Sabha last week and will now require the President’s assent to turn it into law.
The amendment bill has a number of other provisions to safeguard children from offences of sexual assault and sexual harassment.
The bill was tabled in the House by Union women and child development minister Smriti Irani who spoke in detail about the safeguards that the bill provides and gave examples of cases where offenders could be punished.
“I thank everyone for unanimously supporting this bill. I want to say that I share their angst that justice should be done and I also share their concern with regard to implementation. The way MPs rose above party lines is exemplary," Irani told the House while responding on the debate on the bill.
The provision of death penalty is for whoever commits aggravated penetrative sexual assault with a minimum of 20 years of rigourous imprisonment. The punishment of using a child for pornographic purposes is a minimum of five years of jail term and on a repeat offence for seven years along with a provision for fine.
As many as 28 members from all key parties expressed their views on the issue, during the discussion on the bill. Most of the members recalled incidents of child abuse and harassment of people they knew and also went into how an environment needs to be created where children can talk about such cases freely and parents are not dismissive of what children say.
“In a majority of the cases either the children don’t tell their parents what has happened to them or the parents ask the children to remain silent about it," senior Bahujan Samaj Party leader Danish Ali said in the House.
S. Jothimani of the Congress spoke about the provision of death penalty for juvenile offenders and pointed out that there would be no chance of reform if death penalty is meted out. N.K. Premachandran of the Revolutionary Socialist Party also spoke about the death penalty provision.
“The Juvenile Justice Act covers this aspect. If the juvenile justice board finds the child is of an adult mind and if he is over 16 years of age only then will the court take a decision about it," Irani clarified.
The bill significantly defines child pornography as “visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a child" including photograph, video, digital or computer generated image.
A number of members who spoke during the debate raised concerns over how access to mobile phones and social media has opened up the risks of child pornography as well as exposed the identity of children. Several members also called for media restrain while reporting on such cases.
Irani spoke about how more than 620,000 offenders are already on the database of POCSO. Her ministry is coordinating with the home, law, information broadcasting and human resource development ministries to strengthen the implementation of the bill.