BENGALURU: Coming on the back of yet another case of rape of a minor in a city school and numerous cases of rapes and sexual abuse, there has been a rising chorus for having a sex offenders’ registry as a deterrent against such incidents. Such registers are already a norm in some countries in the West but many experts in the field of law and child rights doubt its effectiveness and worry about its consequences.
CJ Hunagund, a member of the Karnataka State Human Rights Commission, is of the opinion that there should be a registry provided absolute proof of crime has been established. A high ranking police official also says that in case of repeated offenders there is a need for a registry.
Registry With ‘Low Convictions’?
The rate of convictions in sexual abuse and rape cases is however very low. For example, according to the NCRB, as many as 8,904 cases were reported in 2014 under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. Of these as many as 406 cases were charge-sheeted, 406 cases went to trial and in 100 cases convictions were made at a rate of only 24.6 per cent. In such a situation, can a registry be a feasible measure?
Categories of Offenders
Anita Makharia is a parent whose child studied in an East Bengaluru school which became infamous for one of the most high-profile rape case of a minor in the city, back in 2014. No wonder she feels very strongly about the need for such a registry but says there was a need to differentiate between an accused and a person who has been convicted.
“After the incident at my child’s school, a group of parents had asked for a registry and even met some government officals. However, it never materialized,” she says. The aim was to flag off people involved in such cases in the past through a wide ambit of categories.
But the question is how anyone in the community would want to be associated with an ‘accused’ in such a registry.
Social Stigma and Exclusion for Life
Arlene Manoharan, fellow at the Centre for the Child and Law, National Law School of India University, says that chance for reforming a person will be lost forever if such a measure is brought forward. “I personally am of the opinion that no deterrence works. Imprisoning someone is one thing but a registry will add to the social isolation and bitterness of a person.
The approach should be one of ‘balanced restorative justice’ with specialised rehabilitation,” she says. Then there is also the danger of convicting children as adults in cases according to the newly amended Juvenile Justice Act. “As a country we are not investing in rehabilitation but only trying to appease the society through measures such as a registry,” she adds.
Last year, the central government also announced plans to moot such a measure where the names, photographs, addresses and PAN cards will be put up online. The Kerela government is also in talks for a similar measure. Presently countries like USA, UK, Canada and others have such a registry and there are people who feel that India should also have it.
G Nagasimha Rao, a child rights activist, highlighted how in USA there are even directions for such offenders to keep away from establishments such as schools. “Far the sake of the safety of a child at any cost, a registry is the need of the hour,” he says.
Does it Work?
A US study titled ‘Measuring the impact of sex offender notification on community community adoption of protective behaviours’ in 2011 says such a measure was designed mainly keeping public behaviour in mind rather than the offenders.
Vidya Reddy, executive director, Tulir - Centre for the Prevention and Healing Child Sexual Abuse, is of the opinion that a sex offender’s registry is a measure that is “myopic, populist and would be an utter failure.” She highlighted a number of problems with the measure in cases such as consensual sex with or between minors, slapping false cases etc. The McMartin Preschool trial in USA is a case in example (see box).