Op-Ed: Death Penalty Won’t Deter Child Rapists

Will the provision of death penalty end the rape of children below 12 in the country? Unpalatable though it may sound, the harsh truth is it won’t.

If harsher laws were enough deterrence for potential rapists, rape cases would have stopped after the changes of law ushered in on the basis of the Justice JS Verma Committee appointed after the horrific Delhi gang rape case of December, 2012. But as everyone who follows news from around the country knows only too well, they haven’t. If anything, the number of rape cases, especially of minor girls, appears to have actually gone up since then. What the stringent measures introduced in the laws relating to rape in 2013 appear to have ‘achieved’ is to ensure an increase in the number of cases where the victim is killed after the rape.

Just about the only deterrent that would work for the potential rapist is something that would invite howls of protest from the liberals of the country. Castration would do what all the changes in the rape laws have failed to do; deter the potential rapist, if not end rape altogether. But at a time when calls for abolition of the death penalty are getting shriller by the day, it would need a foolhardy government to even contemplate such a measure.

As long as the death penalty is there in the statute books, however, it does make sense to use it for the rapists of children below 12. But unfortunately, it won’t end rape of children. Like the post-Nirbhaya amendment in the law, the ordinance on the amendment to the Criminal Law approved by the Union cabinet on Saturday may actually end up encouraging child rapists to kill their victims after the act.  The corresponding increase in punishment envisaged for all rape cases may well have the same effect. All that the ordinance would do is to pander to the growing outrage in the country in the wake of a series of rape of minors in the last few weeks, at least two of which have involved killing the victim.

More than the provision of death penalty in the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, what might work is the two-month time limit prescribed for both the investigation of the cases and the trial and the six month time frame for the appeals process to be completed. But given the speed at which our judicial wheels move, this is easier said than done. The measures proposed in the ordinance to achieve speedier investigation and trial are more of a statement of intent than a realistic blueprint for time-bound action to achieve the desired objective. Perhaps that is the reason the cabinet hasn’t proposed a time limit for any of the measures outlined in the ordinance to ensure faster justice: setting up more fast track courts and appointment of more public prosecutors (which would necessarily involve consultations with the states and union territories/UTs), equipping ALL police stations and hospitals in the country with special forensic kits and setting up forensic science laboratories in every state/UT exclusively for rape cases. Curiously, while the ordinance does talk about providing dedicated manpower for investigation of rape cases in a ‘time-bound manner’, it conveniently stops short of proposing a time limit for this goal to be achieved. In a country that has failed to provide things as crucial as primary education, basic healthcare and clean drinking water to its citizens more than 70 years after independence, it is anybody’s guess how soon the objectives stated in the ordinance can be achieved.

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What the Modi government actually hopes to achieve through this ordinance is to convince a skeptical nation that it is concerned about the growing cases of rape in the country. With just about a year to go for the next general elections, it has done exactly what its predecessor UPA government had done in similar circumstances following the countrywide outrage over the gang rape of Nirbhaya six years ago: go for harsher laws. But if the BJP really wants to change the public perception about its indifference to rape cases, what it really needs to do is to allow – and to be seen to allow – the law to take its own course in rape cases taking place in states ruled by it. The misgivings in the public were born mainly because it is seen to be doing the exact opposite, whether in the Kathua, Unnao or elsewhere.



(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)