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BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh tops the country in rape statistics, has the second highest incidence of sexual offences against children

If a Bill approved by the Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led BJP government in Madhya Pradesh is cleared by the state’s Assembly and receives the presidential assent, the punishment for raping a minor girl below the age of 12 years could see the rapist facing a death penalty upon conviction.

On Sunday, the Madhya Pradesh cabinet headed by Shivraj Singh Chouhan approved a draft Bill, which it hopes to get passed by the state Assembly in its upcoming winter session that proposes a slew of stringent punishments for crimes against women.

While the draft law increases the punishment from life sentence to a death penalty for rapists in cases where the rape survivor is aged below 12 years, it also proposes a fine of up to Rs 1 lakh against repeat offenders in cases of molestation, stalking or harassment besides the existing provision for a jail term.

Besides death penalty for rapists in cases where the rape survivor is aged below 12, the new Bill also envisages the same punishment for all accused in the case of a gang rape. Interestingly, the proposed Bill will also recognise ‘rape on the pretext of marriage’ as a separate category of crime against women that will be punishable at par with cases of rape, sources said.

The decision by the Shivraj cabinet comes at a time when Madhya Pradesh has been regularly making headlines for gory cases of rape and other crimes against women. The state already has the dubious distinction of leading the country in the number of rape cases while it occupies the second highest position among all states when it comes to sexual offences against children.

According to the 2016 report by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) – the most recent compilation of crime statistics from across the country – Madhya Pradesh had reported the highest number of rape cases — 4,391 — across India in 2015. The report states that during the same period, MP – the state where the BJP’s ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ campaign originated from – also recording 1,687 cases of sexual offences against children which were registered under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act in 2015; a figure that was second only to Maharashtra which saw 3,078 such cases in 2015.

Jayant Malaiya, Madhya Pradesh’s finance minister, told mediapersons on Sunday that the new Bill will be titled the Public Safety Bill. However, the Bill in its present form does not address the issue of sexual offences committed against male victims though Malaiya said that this was an area that was under consideration of the state’s BJP government.

Explaining about the provision for death penalty for rapists, Malaiya told reporters in Bhopal: “To ensure death sentence to a rape and gang rape convicts in cases of minor girls of 12 years of age or below, necessary amendments will be required in the sections of Indian Penal Code (IPC). After the required amendments in IPC, the accused will be booked under section 376 AA and 376 DA of IPC.”

According to the proposal, the public prosecutor will have to be heard before an accused moves a bail petition.

Giving details on the government’s plan to introduce a new category of ‘rape on the pretext of marriage’, Malaiya said: “If a woman accuses a man of raping her on the pretext of marrying her, the crime will be treated as a cognisable crime and an amendment will be proposed in section 493 (a) of IPC.”

Once the Assembly clears the Bill, it will be sent to the Central government with a request to send it to the President for approval.

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