Sexual harassment: crime or civic offence
Faced with fresh questions over women’s safety, two new laws dealing with sexual harassment of women have put the government in a quandary as to whether to treat it as a criminal offence or a civil wrong.india Updated: Nov 25, 2013 00:26 IST
Faced with fresh questions over women’s safety, two new laws dealing with sexual harassment of women have put the government in a quandary as to whether to treat it as a criminal offence or a civil wrong.
The new anti-rape law, which came into existence in April following the December 16 gang rape in Delhi last year, defines women’s sexual harassment as a criminal offence in the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and provides for three years’ imprisonment.
This, however, is in contrast to the law for preventing sexual harassment of women at workplaces, passed by Parliament in February. It provides only for penalty and initiating departmental action if necessary.
Officials said there could be some changes in this law to make it harmonious with the other act.
The issue figured in the internal discussions between the ministries of law, women and child development, and home before this bill was sent to the President for assent.
“There cannot be varying deterrents for the same offence in two bills. Since sexual harassment is now a criminal offence mentioned in the IPC, it would not be advisable to retain it as a civil offence for workplaces, in which both parties have the option to reach a compromise,” the law ministry had stated.
“Sexual harassment has now been made a cognizable offence in criminal law. Therefore, allowing withdrawal of complaints at workplaces following a compromise will not stand scrutiny in the court of law.”
However, the government took the view that there was no harm in giving women the option of either settling the matter within the organisation in which the offence took place or complaining to the police.
The justice JS Verma panel, whose report formed the basis of the anti-rape law, had questioned some provisions of the sexual harassment prevention legislation.