Knee-jerk reaction or substantial change? India implements death penalty for the rape of minors


  • On Monday, during the Monsoon Session of Parliament, the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill was passed.
  • Its implementation increases the maximum sentence for raping a girl under 12 years of age to a death penalty; for raping for a girl under 16 years of age to 20 years; and for raping a woman to 20 years.
  • While some people believe the situation is so extreme that the death penalty is the only option, critics believe the law may do more harm than good.
On Monday, the Parliament passed the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, replacing the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, increasing the minimum sentence for raping a girl under 12 years to age to at least 20 years. Following which, the sentence can be increased the life imprisonment to a maximum of serving out the death penalty.

The punishment for rape has been a prominent topic of discussion since the Nirbhaya incident in 2012, and more recently in light of the Kathua and Unnao incidents.

For the bill to apply, amendments have been made to the Indian Penal Code, the Criminal Procedure Code, Evidence Act and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO).

Pros and cons

When the ordinance was originally put in place strengthening the POCSO, the Bar Council of India reacted by saying that such decision should not be taken in a hurry or without discussion.

There are two opposing opinions on the matter. People in favour of the law claim that the situation in India has become so extreme that such a measure is unavoidable.

On the other hand, the critics assert that increasing the punishment alone isn’t enough. They believe that provided the current laws are properly imposed and the system is made more efficient, there isn’t necessarily a requirement for the death penalty.

In the larger picture, certain critics are worried that India is swimming against the trend where most countries are abolishing the death penalty.

Jail time

The increase in the severity of punishment when it comes to rape isn’t limited to the death penalty in the case of a minor. The minimum sentence for raping a girl under the age of 16 years has also been increased from 10 years to 20 years, which is extendable to include life imprisonment. Life imprisonment, in this case, implies that the convict will serve his or her jail term for the rest of their ‘natural life’.

Also, in the case of raping or gang raping a girl under 16 years of age, there is no provision for anticipatory bail. In turn, the rape of a woman can now lead to 10 years of rigorous imprisonment, which is three years more than before.



Faster trials

Justice isn’t justice until it is served. More than the increase in the sentences for rape, the bill also puts in place a measure to increase the speed with which rape cases are handled.

First of all, the initial probe has to be completed within two months of the complaint being filed. After which there’s another deadline of two months in which the trial has to be concluded. There are another six months on the table for the disposal of appeals, after which matter should be settled.

Whether or not such an amendment will have the desired effect on the level of rapes in the country is something that only time will determine. There are worries that the implementation of this law has been a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction from the government to satiate public outcry rather than bring about societal change. That being said, just this law, without programs to spread awareness and inform people of the consequences of rape, won’t do much good.


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