Will death penalty be a deterrent? Speed up trials to tighten the noose, say experts
The Union Cabinet on Saturday approved an ordinance to award death sentence to those convicted of aggravated sexual assault on children below 12 years a move coming in the wake of nationwide outrage over the Kathua and Unnao rapes.
While legal experts and child rights activists welcomed the step, they were unanimous that the proverbial noose will remain loose without foolproof prosecution, quicker trials and, most importantly, certainty of conviction.
The harsh empirical reality of child rape in our country is that large proportion of these offences are committed by close family members, family friends and under-reporting of these crimes plagues our society. Introducing the death penalty for these offences is going to further intensify the problem of underreporting because you are now basically asking victims and their families to risk sending one of their own to the gallows, says Dr Anup Surendranath, director at the Centre on the Death Penalty under the National Law University.
The move, however, has found support, especially among women. I agree rapists should be hanged till death. This is a good move by the government, Olympic bronze medallist Sakshi Malik told Mail Today.
The sentiment was echoed by the Phogat sisters, too. While Commonwealth Games gold medallist Vinesh Phogat hailed the ordinance by calling it a historic move, her sister and CWG silver medallist Babita Phogat said, Death penalty was the perfect punishment for rapists.
Chef Megha Kohli, head chef, Lavaash by Saby, qualified her support for the ordinance by saying: Whether it will improve conditions or not depends on the implementation of this law.
Subir Malik, keyboardist, Parikrama, too, while welcoming the move, reminded that the rape cases must be fast tracked, and should be brought to their logical conclusion within 6-9 months. Only then it will make its impact, he added.
With no victim support and protection systems in place, the field is open for the accused now facing death to threaten and intimidate the victim to retract.
In a country where most rapes are perpetrated by family members, invoking death penalty will only increase the chances of acquittal. Most of the cases will not be reported. There is a reason why the death penalty for child rape exists in only about 13 countries or so, most of them Islamic, said Bharti Ali of HAQ centre for child rights.
According to NCRB data, 95 per cent of child rapes are committed by family members. Conviction rate in such cases is less than 15 per cent.
As per the data, ever since the POCSO Act came into being five years ago, only 11,000 out of the 1.10 lakh cases registered have been disposed of which meant that nearly 90 per cent cases are still pending.
Under the Act, all cases have to be decided within one year. The longer the case is delayed, the more the chances of the accused getting a chance to intimidate the victim and her family, as happened in the Unnao case.
As per another survey, 67 per cent cases of child rapes have fallen off due to intimidation. Activists say the government should focus more on strengthening the existing laws, set up more child-friendly POCSO courts, ensure safety of victims and witnesses, speedy trials, and awareness generation.
We already have the death penalty for several offences and that has not led to any deterrence. If we are looking to create a deterrent, then we have to create it where it works, said Ananth Asthana, advocate and child rights activist.