The Indian parliament on Monday passed the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill 2018 which ensures stringent punishment for those convicted of raping girls below the aforementioned age.
The bill was passed in the Lok Sabha, or the lower house of parliament, last month and on Monday it was unanimously passed in the Rajya Sabha, the upper house, by voice vote.
The government had already changed the criminal law relating to sexual assault back in April. However, further cases involving the rape and murder of minors forced the parliament to adopt an amended version, Presstv reported.
With the approved changes to several provisions of the law, anyone found guilty of raping a girl younger than 12 years of age can now be sentenced to death or life imprisonment.
“Whoever commits rape on a woman under 12 years of age shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than 20 years, but which may extend to imprisonment for life, which shall mean imprisonment for the remainder of that person's natural life, and with fine or with death,”reads the new text of section 376A of the Penal Code.
Under the new amendments, a perpetrator convicted of raping a woman faces at least 10 years in jail, up from seven years previously provided for by law.
The rape of a girl under 16 will be punished by at least 20 years in prison, and life imprisonment at most.
In addition to introducing stricter penalties, the law also mandates authorities to complete investigations of rape cases within two months. Furthermore, anyone accused of raping minors can no longer be granted anticipatory bail during trial.
India registered about 40,000 rape cases in 2016, up from 25,000 in 2012. Rights activists say thousands more go unreported because of a perceived stigma.
One of the worst cases, which made headlines across the world, occurred in New Delhi in 2012. The story of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student, widely referred to as Nirbhaya, was so shocking that prompted the government to pass numerous legislative reforms to increase penalties for sexual violence, including extending the length of prison sentences and introducing the death penalty.
Nirbhaya, who was gang raped in the capital, was hurt so severely that some internal organs had to be removed. She died two weeks after the assault.
Responding to the outpouring of national shame and anger after the 2012 New Delhi case, the government tightened laws on crimes against women.