20 Mar 2013

India's lower house passes tougher rape legislation

9:15 pm on 20 March 2013

A bill stipulating harsher punishments for rapists has been passed by India's lower house of parliament, the Lok Sabha.

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

The death penalty - which is carried out very rarely in India - has been prescribed for cases of rape that cause death or leave the victim in a vegetative state.

The legislation, which was introduced by the government after the fatal gang rape of a student on a Delhi bus in December, also contains new penalties for stalking, groping, voyeurism and acid attacks.

However, Indian newspapers have reported a low turnout for the vote, even though various parties had pledged their commitment to the bill. The Lok Sabha was reportedly mostly empty when the vote took place.

The BBC reports the proposed new law retains the age of consent for sex at 18. It had been 16 years for three decades before the government raised it in an ordinance in February.

The bill now passes to the upper house.