National Advisory Council chairperson Sonia Gandhi has pulled up the Law and Women & Child Development (WCD) ministries over the delay in finalising a draft bill to curb sexual assault against children.
She has asked the two ministries to work in coordination "to enable the finalisation of such a draft legislation so that it can be brought to Parliament expeditiously".
Gandhi, in a letter to Law Minister M Veerappa Moily, has reminded him about the rising incidents of sexual abuse of children in the country and "the lacunae in our present justice system to effectively address sexual offences against children".
A survey commissioned by the WCD Ministry in 2007 had concluded that over 53% of children in India are subjected to sexual abuse, but a majority of them are unable to report the assaults to anyone. The conviction rate in cases of child sex abuse in the country is less than five percent, according to government figures.
The Law Ministry, had in June, prepared a tentative draft of the Protection of Children from Sexual Assault Bill, 2010, and sent it to Gandhi.
It for the first time proposed to put the onus of proving their innocence on the accused.
Under the existing provisions to deal with sexual assault or rape under the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the prosecution has to prove the guilt of the accused.
Other provisions include completion of the trial within a year and government and army officials found guilty of child abuse could face up to life term.
The WCD Ministry, however, wanted some changes in the draft bill, and differences between the two ministries appeared to have led to the delay.
The WCD Ministry has been working on the Prevention of Offences Against the Child Bill, 2009, which seeks to address all offences against children, including sexual offences.
In her letter, Gandhi has pointed out: "However, this legislation appears to be taking time."
She has informed Moily that the WCD Ministry, in order to address the concerns of sexual violence against children is working on a separate bill also.
"I understand the WCD Ministry is now working on a bill relating to protection of children against sexual assault but incorporates some additional features such as pornography related offences as well as strengthening child friendly procedures," said Gandhi.
In his reply, Moily said his ministry has finalised the draft legislation after "incorporating the suggestions of the WCD Ministry."
Moily said the bill has been revised and settled in consultation between the officials concerned.
"Now the WCD Ministry has to prepare a draft note for the union cabinet," he said in a letter to Gandhi.