Replacing rape with sexual assault: activists welcome move (Lead)

July 20th, 2012 - 6:17 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, July 20 (IANS) In view of increasing number of sexual crimes, the government has sought to make rape laws gender neutral by substituting the term “rape” with “sexual assault” and has also included acid attacks as a separate offence with stricter punishment.

While the cabinet’s move has been widely welcomed by women activists and lawyers, some were unhappy with raising the age limit in the definition of minors to 18 years.

The cabinet proposed to replace “rape” with “sexual assault” in the Indian Penal Code and widen the scope of the offence in the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2012.

Ranjana Kumari, director of Centre for Social Research, said it was a welcome move.

“The law is made to cover all forms of sexual assault, not just penal penetration. This is welcome as it has broadened the purview of the law and many other kinds of crimes will be covered,” Kumari told IANS, adding that it would help many young men who face sexual assault by their bosses to come out.

National Commission for Women chairperson Mamta Sharma said she was glad the cabinet had accepted most of the panel’s recommendations.

“Our recommendations have been accepted to change section 376 of the Indian Penal Code (rape) and the punishment has been enhanced from seven years, and depending on the circumstances, from 10 years to life.”

Section 375 of IPC which defines rape has also been changed to include provisions like when the woman is lured into having sex with promise of marriage or made to consume an intoxicant or by fraud. “These have been made punishable,” Sharma told IANS.

Sharma said the provision for stricter punishment for acid attacks - 10 years - was suggested by the NCW. “Now even attempt to throw acid will be made punishable,” she added.

She said the NCW is pushing to make stalking also to be treated as a crime.

Supreme Court senior advocate Kamini Jaiswal told IANS: “I don’t think the law needs to be changed. But the implementation of the law and the certainty of justice should be there.” The authorities should ensure the punishment is handed down within six months, she added.

Apex court advocate Pinki Anand said she was “more interested and happy to note the changes in the law relating to acid attacks.”

“Making the rape definition gender neutral is not a major issue, the more important is the crime of acid attacks that is basically not covered under the IPC. So far, there was no provision and people were getting away scot free,” she told IANS.

Annie Raja, all India secretary of National Federation of Indian Women, said her organisation had still to debate the cabinet proposal, but added she had observed that there was a “growing tendency by the government to dilute any legislation that protects women’s rights”.

“It is good that that punishment for all sexual assaults has come into the law, but the provision of gender neutral is a little of concern for us”.

On the provision of raising the age definition of minor to below 18 years, the reactions from women activists was more sharp.

Ranjana Kumari said that by raising the age definition it should not criminalise two consenting teens engaging in sex. “If they are consenting minors and engaging in sex, then it should not be criminalised,” she said.

Commenting on the provision, lawyer Pinki Anand said that she felt it should not happen, and “ultimately seen in scientific and biological terms, I am not comfortable with raising the age of consent”.

Annie Raja said if the government was raising the age definition of minor to below 18, then they should also define what is the age of a child. She said the definition of child was different in different contexts, including by a paediatrician and under labour laws. “Raising the age has positive and negative aspects…how to address the issues arising from it needs to be debated more.”

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, incidents of rape rose from over 16,000 in 2001 to over 24,000 in 2011 in the country.

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