Anti-rape bill gets Cabinet nod

Age for consensual sex lowered to 16 years
NEW DELHI (TIP): The Cabinet on March 14 cleared the final draft of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, which retained the word “rape” over the gender-neutral “sexual assault,” to define crime against women. It also dropped the provision to penalise complainants for filling false cases of harassment like stalking and voyeurism, besides lowering the age for consensual sex to 16 years. The Cabinet meeting, presided over by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, gave its nod to the proposed legislation drafted after a Group of Ministers (GoM) sorted out differences among the home, law and women and child development ministries on certain issues.

The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government has convened an allparty meeting on Monday to seek diverse views on the proposed Bill that will replace the existing ordinance, so that Parliament can pass it without much hassle. The Samajwadi Party and the BJP have different opinions on some portions of the Bill, which they are likely to raise in the meeting.

Sources said since the Cabinet has agreed to bring down the age for consensual sex from 18 to 16 years, the women and child development ministry will have to amend the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act of 2012 to introduce uniformity in both legislations. The Act differentiates a child from an adult. It defines a youngster as a person below 28 years of age. The Act also protects teenagers from crimes like sexual assault and harassment.

Even consensual sex with a minor is considered rape. It was learnt that the Women and Child Development Minister Krishna Tirath had objected to reducing the age for consensual sex at the Cabinet meeting. Stalking, voyeurism and touching a woman without consent have been defined as criminal offences in the Bill.

NBW offence
Sustained stalking will be a nonbailable offence, while the provision for penalising complainants for falsely implicating people in harassment cases has been withdrawn from the final draft. It was debated that such a provision will deter women from registering sexual crime cases. The prime minister had constituted the GoM headed by Finance Minister P Chidambaram to evolve consensus among the warring ministries. The government wanted to introduce the Bill in the Budget session, which goes into recess on March 22. The Bill also proposes death penalty for the rape accused if the victim dies or is pushed to a vegetative stage. Besides, life term has been extended to ensure that the culprits spend their entire life behind the bars.

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