Death Penalty Current Affairs - 2019

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Parliament passes Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, 2019

Parliament passed Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, 2019 to provide stricter punishments for child sex abuse. It was first passed by Rajya Sabha on July 24, 2019 and then by Lok Sabha on August 1, 2019. The Bill amends Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO), 2012 which provides legal framework to protect children from offences such as sexual assault, sexual harassment, and pornography.

Salient Features of Bill

Penetrative sexual assault: The bill increases minimum punishment for this offence from 7 years to 10 years. It also provides for with imprisonment between 20 years to life, with fine if person commits penetrative sexual assault on child below age of 16 years.

Aggravated penetrative sexual assault: The Bill adds two more grounds to definition of aggravated penetrative sexual assault. These include: (i) assault resulting in death of child and (ii) assault committed during natural calamity or in any similar situations of violence. It also increases minimum punishment from 10 years to 20 years, and maximum punishment to death penalty.

Aggravated sexual assault: The Bill adds two more offences to definition of aggravated sexual assault. These include: (i) assault committed during natural calamity and (ii) administrating or help in administering any chemical substance or any hormone to child for the purpose of attaining early sexual maturity.

Child Pornography: The Bill defines child pornography as any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct that involves child such as photograph, video, digital or even computer generated image indistinguishable from actual child. It also enhances punishments for certain offences related to child pornography.

Storage of pornographic material: It increases punishment for storage of pornographic material with imprisonment between three to five years, or fine, or both. In addition, it also adds two other offences for storage of pornographic material involving children. These include: (i) transmitting, displaying, distributing such material except for the purpose of reporting it and (ii) failing to destroy or delete or report pornographic material involving child.

Union Cabinet Approves amendments to POCSO Act

The Union Cabinet has approved amendments to the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012. The amendments are proposed by the Ministry of Women and Child Development.

Amendments Proposed

POSCO is a gender-neutral law protects both boys and girls under the age of 18. The amendments proposed are:

  • The amendments provide for stringent punishment, including the death penalty, for committing aggravated penetrative sexual assault crime on a child, both boys and girls, below the age of 18.
  • The amendments extend the punishment for aggravated penetrative sexual assault from a minimum of 10 years to a minimum of 20 years, up to a maximum of life imprisonment and even the death penalty.
  • The amendments are proposed to protect children from sexual offences in times of natural calamities and disasters.
  • The amendment also proposes to alter the definition of sexual assault to include administering hormones to children expedite their sexual maturity for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation.

Why the amendments were proposed?

The Ministry of Women and Child Development cites the reports of rapes of young girls in the aftermath of Kedarnath floods. Data shows that children constitute 50-60% of victims of calamities. Hence there was a need to add rapes in course of natural calamities as the 21st category under aggravated penetrative sexual assault.

The cabinet has approved the death penalty for those convicted of raping girls below the age of 12 under IPC. But IPC is not gender neutral. Since POSCO is a gender-neutral law the amendments widen the range of cases of sexual assault against boys and girls under 18 that are now punishable by death.

Is law a deterrent?

Government proposes that amendments will further enhance the deterrence against sexual assault on children. But the data shows that less than 3% of all POCSO cases end in convictions and experts further warn against the chilling effect the death penalty may have on reporting the crime. Hence it can be said that law by itself will not be a deterrent but systemic changes in law enforcement and prosecution hold the key to tackling child sexual abuse.