The Supreme Court asked Parliament on Monday to consider “harsher” punishment for child sexual abuse, molestation and rape but refused to direct the Centre to include chemical castration as an additional penalty for such convicts.
A bench headed by justice Dipak Misra also told attorney general Mukul Rohatgi that the government should define the term “child” in the context of rape under the criminal law.
“At present, the language in law specifies women below the age of 16. But these days children between the ages of two and 10 are increasingly becoming victims of sexual abuse. Parliament may think of re-defining the term child and impose further rigorous punishment to those involved in sexual abuse of children,” the bench ordered.
India has seen an explosive rise in cases of rape of children in the past five years, with data from the National Crime Record Bureau saying a minor is sexually abused every 30 minutes.
Several countries have enacted tough laws to check sexual abuse of children and regularly use chemical castration – the process of using drugs to lower the libido of a person without physically removing one’s sexual organs – as a mode to punish repeat offenders.
The country saw a 151% rise in child rapes between 2009 and 2014, forcing the Madras high court to ask the Centre in October last year to think about castration for those who rape children to deter such sexual assaults.
But the top court said it couldn’t prescribe a particular punishment for an offence as it was the realm of Parliament. “We leave these matters to the wisdom of Parliament,” the bench said.
“Laws should never be made on emotions or sentiments or in a knee jerk reaction. So it’s not easy to order castration,” Misra told senior advocate Mahalakshmi Pavani, who was representing the Supreme Court Women Lawyers Association (SCWLA) that had filed a public interest litigation (PIL) demanding castration for such offenders.
The justice Verma committee – constituted after the December 16 Delhi gang rape case – had also rejected the demand for castration, noting the “punishment fails to treat the social foundations of rape”.
The court said the Centre could create a special category for child abuse cases. Under section 376 of the Indian Penal Code, the maximum punishment for rape is life sentence and minimum is seven years.
In 2012, Parliament passed the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act that prescribed a minimum 10-year jail term and maximum life imprisonment for raping a child while the punishment for a minor’s gang rape ranged between a 20-year jail term to life imprisonment. Chemical castration was not included.
In its plea, the SCWLA said POCSO had failed to prevent sexual assault on minors as punishments provided therein were “nothing different than general punishment provided in Indian Penal Code”.
It also wanted a direction to the ministry of women and child development to frame guidelines in regard to the protection of children from sexual abuse.
The PIL was triggered by the shocking incident in Bulandshahar district of Uttar Pradesh where a 28-day-old girl was raped on December 6, 2015. The petition also recalled the gang rape of two minors in Delhi in October last year.
In October, the Madras HC judge had noted how other countries such as US, Poland, Russia, South Korea, Indonesia, Russia, New Zealand and Argentina introduced castration to deal with child sex offenders.