NEW DELHI: A bill seeking to provide death penalty for aggravated sexual assault on children and greater punishments for other crimes against minors was taken up for consideration and passage in the Lok Sabha on Thursday.
Piloting the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, 2019, Women and Child Development Minister Smriti Irani said it aims at making offences against children gender neutral.
The Bill, which was already approved by the Rajya Sabha, defines child pornography, making it punishable.
Cutting across party lines, members supported amendments to POCSO Act though some demanded that Bill be referred to the standing committee or select committee as it makes certain offences punishable with death.
The Bill, said Ms Irani, would provide added legal protection to 39 per cent of population or 43 crore children, irrespective of whether they are a girl or boy.
Besides other things, she said, the Bill defines child pornography so that sexual predators indulging in such heinous crimes could be punished.
Regretting that 5,000 persons followed the child pornography site operated by a person, Ms Irani said, “This is a matter of grave concern for the society. The site had even showed the rape of a minor girl.”
Recalling a case wherein children were administered drugs and hormones to make them sexually active, she said the law is aimed at providing stringent punishment to such offenders.
“We want to provide added protection to children…in rarest of rare cases death (penalty),” she added.
Participating in the discussion, Su Thirunavukkarasar (Cong) suggested that since the bill has a provision for death penalty, it should be sent to a Parliamentary committee for further scrutiny.
Rita Bahuguna Joshi (BJP) said the Bill will go a long way in bringing offenders against children to book.
DMK’s Kanimozhi said that bill should be sent to select committee or standing committee as harsher punishment could deter people from reporting the crime.
While presiding over the proceedings, Biju Janata Dal’s Bhartruhari Mahtab pointed out to Ms Irani that the Hindi version of the POCSO bill used the word “balakon”, a term for young boys, while the English word “children” is gender neutral.
To this, she responded that the legislative department of the government had vetted the bill and cleared it.
Rajiv Ranjan Singh of the Janata Dal-United praised the bill, saying it will curb the growing trend in the society toward such heinous crimes.
He, however, suggested the government work to have special courts across the country and ensure speedy trial so that the cases of sexual crimes against children are taken to logical conclusion.
A short period of trial will also minimise the chances of accused influencing witnesses. Citing a survey, he said the cases of sexual harassment against children have risen by 500 per cent.
Trinamool Congress’ Satabdi Roy wondered if death penalty will deter criminals and asked the government to explain as to what it is doing to help victims.
Shiv Sena’a Vinayak Raut supported the bill and sought a time-bound trial for the accused.
Bahujan Samaj Party’s Danish Ali also backed the bill, saying he supports capital punishment for those convicted under this Act even though he is ideologically against death penalty.