Make due diligence before publicly naming sex predators
A sex crimes registry appears to be a creditable idea. But requisite rigour must be displayed before naming and shaming the offenders.editorials Updated: Dec 14, 2016 18:16 IST
The Centre has filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court proposing the setting up of India’s first sex offender registry. A registry like this has the potential to work at two levels. The police will have a list of likely suspects should a sex crime occur in the neighbourhood in which a registered offender lives. Also, parents will have access to information that can help them alert children to stay away from particular people. Government officials say names and details of offenders would be put up on the registry only after they’ve been convicted. The details won’t be made public if the cases are in trial and or in appeal in a higher court. The database is likely to include personal details of the convicted including address, fingerprints, DNA samples, and identity information such as the Aadhar card that contains biometric information.
The proposal to set up such a registry was first mooted by the UPA after the December 16 gang-rape case that triggered national outrage in 2012. In 2015, the government changed the law to reduce the age to 16 from 18 for young people to be tried as adults if they were accused of crimes such as rape and murder. The sex-offender registry will be on the lines of directories in the US, Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and Ireland, among other nations. But apart from the US, most other countries have restricted access to the registry to law-enforcement authorities.
The US has a publicly accessible resource called the National Sex Offender Public Website. But in some cases, identifying convicted rapists has lead to vigilante attacks. Such a publicly accessible record of criminals appears to be a creditable idea. But it also has the potential of mistakes being made, even in countries where the diligence norms are strict. In India, where the norms are not as rigorous, the risk of mistakes occurring (or worse, the registries being used to defame or blackmail people) is enormous. The government should ensure due diligence before it names and shames sexual predators. Naming only those who’ve been convicted by a court is to be a step in that direction.