BENGALURU: Bengaluru has seen many accounts of children facing sexual assault, and had come out in hordes on to the streets demanding safer spaces. But parents and social activists, who actively participated in these campaigns, are not happy with Union Cabinet’s recently passed ordinance. After the eight-year-old brutal rape and murder in Jammu and Kashmir, the ordinance giving death sentence to those convicted of raping children up to 12 years of age was mooted and passed.
About 320 POCSO cases have been registered in this city, according to NCRB 2016 data, but parents say that the ordinance has been approved in haste and death penalty can be a clear violation of human rights.Bengaluru-based Vijay Tata, an entrepreneur and founder of New India Charitable Trust, has also reached out to the victim’s family in Kathua and contributed a financial help of `5 lakh.He says the ordinance will not help in giving justice to the victim, what is needed is better infrastructure. "Even the Supreme Court has said that minor rape cases should be tried every day but it still takes time to get a judgment because there is lack of infrastructure." This parent of a nine-year-old says what is needed is speedy trial, not a death sentence. "What's the point of delivering a death sentence if the trial takes 20 years?," he asks.
Dr Shaibya Saldanha, MD (obg) and co-founder, Enfold Proactive Health Trust, says that “death penalty has not reduced crime rates in the country”. She says, “It's not the quantum of punishment that matters but the quantity. The ordinance states death penalty to those convicted of raping children up to 12 years of age. Does that mean the older people do not go through as much trauma?," she asks.“The state cannot take it on itself and kill the person because it believes he or she is guilty, it will be like opening a Pandora’s box. There could be an error of judgement too. Life imprisonment till death is okay," she adds.
Dr Sylvia Karpagam, public health doctor and researcher, says that death penalty could lead to decrease in the number of cases reported as 90 per cent of the accused are known to the family and kid. She adds that this is a dangerous move. "It is not a fair system. The chances of convicting the wrong person are higher. Migrants and minorities can be targeted and sent to prison and tortured so that they would accept the crime and this would be a clear violation of human rights. For instance, if a minister's son is accused of raping a minor, he wouldn't be charged. There is always a bias based on caste, class or religion."
She quotes the study done by Amnesty International that highlights the details of prisoners facing undertrials and death penalties in India. The study states that a majority of these prisoners belong to the historically marginalised Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Caste as well as religious minorities, predominantly Muslim.
This might also lead to murder of the victims, says Gayathri Ananth, head, Ourspace early intervention. "Already only 30 per cent of the rapes are being reported. This will encourage rapists to murder the victim so that there are no chances of case being reported," she says.
The mother of a seven-year-old son says, "We need faster trials. Take the case of a three-year-old girl who was raped by her playschool van driver in HSR Layout in 2014. I even went to the Child Rights Commission to seek help for this case. They said they are in talks with the Delhi team. Now, the person is out on bail and no one knows the status of the case," she says adding that the parents of another six-year-old victim who was raped in her school in 2014 have moved out of the city losing hope in judiciary.
What does ordinance state?
Death penalty to those convicted of raping children up to 12 years of age.
In case of rape of a girl under 16 years, minimum punishment has been increased from 10 years to 20 years, extendable to imprisonment for rest of life, which means imprisonment till that person’s natural life.
For speedy trial of rape cases, new fast track courts will be set up in consultation with States/UTs and High Courts.
The ordinance also prescribes that there will be no provision for anticipatory bail for a person accused of rape or gang rape of a girl under 16 years.
Fast track case
The case of against an army driver for raping an 8-year-old girl became one of the quickest POCSO conviction across the country after an order was passed within just six months of the incident in March. The convict identified as 29-yr-old K Balakondaiah was deployed with a defence unit in the city. City civil and sessions judge M. Latha Kumari, who heard the case, passed a verdict of imprisonment for life for the offence under section 376 of IPC r/w section 7 (2)and 7 (4) of Protection of children from sexual offences Act 2012 and a fine of `1 lakh.