Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration reportedly proposed an amendment to the country’s Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act (POCSO) on Friday that would inflict the death penalty on criminals convicted of raping children under the age of 12.
Citing the latest data available compiled by the NGO Child Rights and You (CRY), the Indo-Asian News Service (IANS) notes that sexual crimes against minors in India have soared — increasing five-fold from 18,967 in 2006 to 106,958 in 2016.
Also on Friday, the Modi administration reportedly declared the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM), allegedly prevalent among the country’s Bohra Muslim community, as a crime after arguing that there is no evidence of the horrific act in India.
“[I] am deeply, deeply disturbed by the rape case in [Kashmir’s] Kathua, and all the recent rape cases. I and the ministry intend to bring an amendment to the POCSO Act asking for the death penalty for the rape of children below 12 years of age,” Minister Maneka Gandhi, Modi’s chief for the Ministry of Women and Child Development, told India’s Supreme Court, the Times of India (TOI) reports, citing Asian News International (ANI).
The POCSO is focused on protecting “children from offenses of sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and pornography and to provide a child-friendly system for the trial of these offenses,” explains the TOI.
Gandhi’s comments came in the wake of the brutal gang rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in the volatile Muslim-majority region of Indian-controlled Kashmir, in addition to a separate child rape incident in Uttar Pradesh (UP).
The minister has also urged state and local government “to retrain police officers on various aspects of sexual offenses. The move is aimed at preventing crimes against women and children in India,” Mumbai Mirror reports.
Modi’s Attorney General [AG] K.K. Gopal declared on Friday that FGM “is a crime punishable with imprisonment of seven years under the existing law.”
Under POCSO, the maximum punishment for “aggravated” sexual assault is life in prison, while the minimum prescribed punishment is seven years in jail.
Supporting a PIL [public interest litigation] to ban the “Khatna” or the Female Genital Mutilation (FMG), Attorney General K.K. Gopal appearing for the Centre on Friday asked the Apex Court to “step in and issue directions” on the practice of FMG. The government’s response came on a plea seeking direction to ban female genital mutilation or “Khatna”, as it is commonly called, and declare it illegal and inhuman.
The Modi administration recently alleged that there is no evidence of FGM in India.
However, a reportedly unprecedented study about female genital mutilation in India published in March reveals that “75% of daughters (aged seven years and above) of all [Bohra Muslim] respondents in the sample were subjected to FGM/C.”
Researchers conducted the study on behalf of We Speak Out, considered the most significant survivor-led movement to end FGM within Bohra community.
In February 2016, a United Nations report acknowledged that while “evidence suggests that FGM/C exists in … India … with large variations in terms of the type performed, circumstances surrounding the practice and size of the affected population groups … the available evidence [at the time] comes from (sometimes outdated) small-scale studies or anecdotal accounts, and there are no representative data as yet on prevalence.”
FGM is a common practice in Muslim communities, particularly in Africa.