India reforms its anti-rape laws — to mixed reaction kpbs gas utility


They had been rescued by the police and were sent to live in a shelter run by Prajwala, an organization that has supported rape victims in India since 1996, giving them a place to live on its campus and the skills to help them rebuild their lives.

India is trying to makes its judicial system more efficient — and to set stronger penalties for convicted rapists. New laws have been passed. But there are concerns that these ordinances will be difficult to implement or could even backfire.

The kind of delay the two girls faced simply should not happen. A law called POCSO — the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act — calls for the establishment of new child-friendly courts and better procedures in existing courts so young victims wouldn’t have to make numerous appearances in order to testify. The act came into effect in 2012, after a 21-year-old student was brutally raped on a bus and later died of her injuries.

The aim of POCSO was to offer better protection for all women — in particular for minors. According to statistics from India’s National Crime Records Bureau, four out of 10 rape victims are minors. In 2016, only 6,626 — nearly a tenth of its 64,138 pending cases of child rape went to trial. Of those that did, the conviction rate was only 28.2 percent.

One major revision is that anyone convicted of raping a child 12 or younger will automatically get the death penalty. In the case of a rape of a minor below the age of 16, the punishment is now a 20-year sentence or life imprisonment, compared with a 10-year maximum sentence before.

"By instituting the death penalty, the reporting of such crimes may decline," says Nundy. A day after the ordinance was passed, Bharti Ali, the co-director of HAQ: Centre for Child Rights, a Delhi-based nongovernmental organization, contended with one such case: "I was dealing with a woman who would soon testify against her husband. He was under trial for raping their minor daughter."

"It isn’t easy for victims to get past the social stigma and report rape in India," says Ali. "When they do report it, the [prospect of the] death penalty shouldn’t cause them to reconsider. The death penalty can also induce a rapist to kill his victim, because he would not want his victim to testify against him in court."

"We still have very few courts dedicated exclusively for child victims of sexual assault," says Sunitha Krishnan, who co-founded Prajwala and who was raped when she was 15 years old. "In most cities, courts only have designated times for children to testify."

As a result, cases can back up, creating further delays. "Investing in and creating this infrastructure should be the priority," says Krishnan. "Unless we recruit and train judicial officers and redress issues pertaining to the shortage of judicial officers, nothing will change."

Then there is the matter of evidence. Convictions in rape cases hinge on DNA evidence from forensic scientific labs. There are only six of these labs in all of India, and only three are equipped for DNA testing. Thousands of cases are still pending at these labs across the country. "In such a situation, the victim would have to wait at least two years to get the report, making it impossible to fast track their cases," says Bharti Ali.

This proposal is being hotly debated in India. While activists like Krishnan feel that it will help monitor sexual offenders and prevent crime, Ali is a critic: "Once you brand someone a rapist, it can prevent them from ever wanting to reform or reintegrate into society," she says.