19 Mar 2013

Death penalty in India's tough new rape laws

10:39 pm on 19 March 2013

A bill containing harsher punishment for rapists, including the death penalty, has been introduced in India's parliament.

The fatal gang rape of a student in Delhi in December had sparked demands for tougher laws.

Last month, the Government introduced the new rape laws in an ordinance.

A bill with these laws must be tabled during the current session of parliament. If the bill is not passed, the ordinance will lapse.

Reports say the new law also seeks to retain the age of consent for sex at 18 years, after some political parties protested against the government's move to bring it down to 16.

The age of consent in India had been 16 years for three decades before the government raised to 18 in its ordinance in February.

But the Government had proposed to bring it down to 16 again after fears that a higher age of consent would be "misused" by parents who disapproved of their daughters' consensual relationships with boys.

The new laws also increase punishment for offences like voyeurism, stalking and acid attacks.

They provide for death penalty - which is imposed very rarely in India - in cases of rape that leads to death or leaves the victim in a "persistent vegetative state".

Under the changes, the minimum sentence for gang rape, rape of a minor, rape by policemen or a person in authority will be doubled to 20 years and can be extended to life without parole.

Under the existing laws, a rapist faces a term of seven to 10 years.