A Bill seeking to provide death penalty for aggravated sexual assault on children and greater punishments for other crimes against minors was approved by Parliament, after it was passed by the Lok Sabha on Thursday.
Piloting the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences(Amendment) Bill, 2019, Women and Child Development Minister Smriti Irani saidit aims at making offences against children gender neutral.
The Bill, which was already passed by the Rajya Sabha onJuly 29, defines child pornography, making it punishable.
Cutting across party lines, members supported amendments toPOCSO Act though some demanded that Bill be referred to the standing committeeor select committee as it makes certain offences punishable with death.
Seeking passage of the bill in Lok Sabha, Irani said thisbill is not related to vote bank politics but to save the future of India.
In an apparent reference to Congress MP Ramya Haridas whoraised the Unnao rape issue in the House, Irani said this bill should not belooked from the perspective of politics and should not be politicised forpersonal benefits.
Responding to Haridas, Irani said it was very unfortunatethat when she was speaking some members who were supporting her were actuallyhaving fun.
She further said the courts of this country have even powerto punish MLAs and MPs.
The Bill, said Irani, would provide added legal protectionto 39 per cent of population or 43 crore children, irrespective of whether theyare a girl or boy.
Besides other things, she said, the Bill defines childpornography so that sexual predators indulging in such heinous crimes could bepunished.
Regretting that 5,000 persons followed the child pornographysite operated by a person, Irani said, "this is a matter of grave concernfor the society. The site had even showed the rape of a minor girl, he added.
Recalling a case wherein children were administered drugsand harmones to make them sexually active, she said, the law is aimed atproviding stringent punishment to such offenders.
"We want to provide added protection to children…Inrarest of rare cases death (penalty)," she added.
Replying on the bill, Irani assured that under witnessprotection scheme, all measures such as doing threat assessment of the victimand witness and if required even changing their identity and others, were takento ensure their safety.
On if juvenile is involved in sexual offence against thechildren, the minister said that cases come under juveile justice act and thedeath penalty could be given only if he is above 16 years of age and juvenilejustice board finds that he has adult mind.
The minister acknowledged that the rate of conviction insexual offences is very slow and informed that under Nirbhaya Fund, 1023 fasttrack courts will be established across the country and 18 state governmentshave already been taken on board by the government.
She also said that a national data base for such cases havealso been started and about 6.2 lakh sexual offence cases were registered inthat base.
Sharing the details of awareness programme among children,the minister said CBSE will carry out programmes in school across the countryto make aware children about good and bad touch.
She further said more than 40,000 teachers will also betrained for the same.
Participating in the discussion, Su Thirunavukkarasar (Cong)suggested that since the bill has a provision for death penalty, it should besent to a Parliamentary committee for further scrutiny.
Rita Bahuguna Joshi (BJP) said the Bill will go a long wayin bringing offenders against children to book.
Kanimozhi (DMK) said that bill should be sent to selectcommittee or standing committee as harsher punishment could deter people fromreporting the crime.
While presiding over the proceedings, BJD's BhartruhariMahtab pointed out to Irani that the Hindi version of the POCSO bill used theword "balakon", a term for young boys, while the English word"children" is gender neutral.
To this, she responded that the legislative department ofthe government had vetted the bill and cleared it.
Rajiv Ranjan Singh of the JD(U) hailed the bill, saying itwill curb the growing trend in the society toward such heinous crimes.
He, however, suggested the government work towards havingspecial courts across the country and ensure speedy trial so that the cases ofsexual crimes against children are taken to logical conclusion.
A short period of trial will also minimise the chances ofaccused influencing witnesses. Citing a survey, he said the cases of sexualharassment against children have risen by 500 per cent.
TMC's Satabdi Roy wondered if death penalty will detercriminals and asked the government to explain as to what it is doing to helpvictims.
Shiv Sena'a Vinayak Raut supported the bill and sought atime-bound trial for the accused.
BSP's Danish Ali also backed the bill, saying he supportscapital punishment for those convicted under this Act even though he isideologically against death penalty.
Ali (BSP) said he was against the death penalty forjuvenile.
Hasnain Masoodi (NC) extended support to the Bill statingthat the proposed legislation was for the 10 per cent of the victims and thatfor the remaining 90 per cent there was a need to stregthen the preventionsystem. "We have to strengthen theprevention mechanism," he said and added that it was high time to makestringent and effective law for protection of children.
Amid the opposition to the death penalty for juvenile bysome members, Nishikant Dubey (BJP) said the government has shown the power tocome up with death penalty. He also pitched for the need for awareness campaignin the society.
Kalyan Banerjee (AITC) expresssed concern that in the mediathe identity of the victim and his/her family got leaked which he said shouldnot happen.Pritam Munde (BJP) stressed on therehabilitation of the victims.