There is little evidence to suggest that the death penalty is an effective deterrent for rapists | editorials | Hindustan Times
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There is little evidence to suggest that the death penalty is an effective deterrent for rapists

Better prosecution, the certainty of conviction and the severity of the sentence will work far better

editorials Updated: Apr 16, 2018 16:31 IST
People hold placards at a protest against the rape of an eight-year-old girl, in Kathua, near Jammu and a teenager in Unnao, Uttar Pradesh , in New Delhi, April 12
People hold placards at a protest against the rape of an eight-year-old girl, in Kathua, near Jammu and a teenager in Unnao, Uttar Pradesh , in New Delhi, April 12(REUTERS)

The government’s response to the Kathua rape case has been on predictable lines – women and child development minister, Maneka Gandhi, wants the death penalty introduced into the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (Pocso) 2012 for those accused of raping a minor below the age of 12. Knee-jerk reactions like this invariably follow heinous sexual crimes like the Kathua case in which an eight- year-old Bakerwal girl was abducted, raped and murdered by a number of people including serving policemen. But in most cases of child rape and molestation, the perpetrator is a person known to the child and, therefore, the child is unwilling or unable to name him. In some cases, the family will be complicit in covering up the crime.

The real problem is that we have very poor forensics. In a rape case, whether of a child or an adult, the evidence must be collected within 24 hours of the crime. This is often not done. The FIR should be filed as quickly as possible. The investigation must have a deadline. In the Kathua case, the filing of the chargesheet was thwarted by a few renegade lawyers, following which the case become highly politicised. There is little evidence to suggest that the death penalty is an effective deterrent. In the Kathua case, it is clear that the offenders thought they could get away with it, thanks to police complicity. Also, given our notoriously slow criminal justice system, getting a death sentence could take decades as judges tend to be more hesitant to pronounce this.

Better prosecution, the certainty of conviction and the severity of the sentence will work far better. In the case of rapes of minors – there were 19,675 recorded in 2016 alone – there has to be a well-defined timeline to press charges. The longer the case is delayed, the more the chances of the accused being able to intimidate the victim and her family as happened in the Unnao case. In this case, the father paid with his life for standing up for his daughter who was raped by a powerful politician. The first step in securing convictions in child rape cases begins with improving the workings of the police station, the first port of call for the victim. There have been numerous instances in which the police have refused to file FIRs, especially when the victims are from poor families. In the case of child victims, the police must be particularly sensitive and quick when recording complaints. This will be a better way to secure justice for child victims than focusing on the death penalty.