The Union Cabinet on July 20, 2012 cleared the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2012 for introduction in the coming monsoon session of Parliament. This long overdue and much awaited legislation inter alia provides for substituting the word "Rape" with "Sexual Assault" so as to make the offence gender-neutral, widening the ambit of sexual assault to cover different sexual acts, raising the age of consent from sixteen to eighteen years except in case of sexual assault of wife by her husband, enhancing the punishment for outraging the modesty of woman, making acid attack a specific offence in Indian Penal Code(IPC) etc.
Although the Bill may be welcomed as a good initiative, if not remarkable, by the Central Government towards strengthening of prevalent archaic laws relating to sexual assault and molestation of women, it fails to address adequately certain aspects relating to different forms of sexual assault on women. It would have been much wise if a special legislation on the lines of Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 is enacted which broadly defines various types of sexual offences against women coupled with prescription of due punishment for the same.
Such special statute for women ought to incorporate different heads of sexual assault against women according to their degree viz. penetrative sexual assault including in aggravated form, sexual assault (non-penetrative) including in aggravated form, various forms of sexual harassment inflicted upon women e.g. subjecting women to sexual assault for pornographic or allied purposes etc. Pertinent to mention that various countries have enacted such special statutes notably the UK, the country from where we inherited our IPC, which enacted Sexual Offences Act in 2003.
As per the figures contained in the latest annual report "Crime In India-2011" by National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), more than 24,000 cases of rape and close to 43,000 cases of molestation of women were reported last year. Although charge-sheeting rate in respect of these cases was over 90 per cent, the conviction rate is highly dismal - just around 27 per cent.
Needless to say that these figures exclude a large chunk of unreported incidents as a whopping number of victims of such crimes prefer to keep mum either owing to fear of mental or social trauma coupled with lack of family support or else owing to criminally intimidation by alleged offenders.
Sadly, the present punishment prescribed for such heinous crime appears to have virtually no deterrence on offenders who continue to violate the law with impunity.
Now, as per Cabinet note, the draft 2012 Bill seems to have incorporated most of the recommendations of the Law Commession of India except inclusion of "cunnilingus" and "fellatio" in the revised definition of Rape i.e. Sexual Assault. Be that as it may, it is highly hoped that the Parliamentary Standing Committee to whom the Bill would be referred after its introduction would duly address and resurrect all the shortcomings, if any, in the Bill. The Bill merits expeditious enactment into law so as to effectively address and tackle the contemporary dimensions of sexual assault which have undergone drastic variations in recent years.
Last but not the least, there can not be any second opinion that the Parliament or Legislature can at the most enact or amend a law so as to make it more stringent in line with contemporary needs and challenges but ultimately it is the duty of our system of Administration of Justice which includes police, prosecution and Judiciary to reap its real benefits.
If the investigation of a sexual offence is done expeditiously without loss or damage of any incriminating evidence preferably by women investigating officers, the prosecution is carried out in a highly efficient and professional manner by specially-trained public prosecutors so as to put in their best efforts to nail the alleged culprits and above all if the Judiciary adopts a fast-track approach (like day-to-day trial) coupled with deprecating unnecessary adjournments and discarding other unwarranted delay tactics by defence counsels during hearing of such cases, the conviction rate would surely improve considerably so as to act as a deterrent for those who often dare to commit such heinous crimes owing to our slow justice delivery system.