India president signs sexual assault ordinance

[JURIST] Indian President Pranab Mukherjee [official website] signed an ordinance [text] on Sunday imposing stricter penalties for rape. The ordinance, which was passed by the Union Cabinet on Friday [Times of India report], will be tabled before the parliament within six weeks of the next session beginning on February 21. The new laws are effective immediately with the president's signature because parliament is not in session but the president deemed immediate action necessary. However, if the bill is not passed, the ordinance will lapse and the laws will no longer be valid. The new law provides for the death penalty in cases of rape that lead to death or a vegetative state, and the minimum sentence has doubled to 20 years for gang rape, rape of a minor, rape by policemen or a person in authority; it can also be extended to life without parole. Women's rights organizations, civil society groups and activists have criticized the ordinance for being inadequate to combat sexual crimes against women and for being passed without proper debate.

The rape and subsequent death [BBC reports] of a 23-year-old New Delhi medical student in December 2012 sparked mass protests in India and led to the creation of the committee that recommended the legal reforms in its report [JURIST report]. The report recommended numerous reforms in the way the nation's legal institutions handle rape cases, many of which were taken into consideration in the ordinance. In December Indian authorities charged six suspects [JURIST report] with murder after the death of the gang rape victim. Also in December Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh [official profile] called for peace [JURIST report] after a protest over sexual violence resulted in a clash between protesters and police.

 

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