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Sexual harassment ordinance: Silence on AFSPA, soft on dereliction of duty
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New Delhi, Feb 2 (Agencies): Just days after the Justice Verma Committee made its recommendations to amend laws relating to sexual assault, the Cabinet has passed an ordinance. The punishment for rape could range from 20 years to even death in extreme cases, but the ordinance remains silent on the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and marital rape.

The ordinance has also rejected the Verma Committee’s recommendations on issues like making rape a gender specific crime in the law as well as on increasing the punishment to public servants guilty of dereliction of duty

"The UPA government has responded to the sensitivities of the people," Law Minister Ashwini Kumar said. The Cabinet met at a short notice to approve the ordinance just to prove this point.

It has faced criticism on inability to feel the pulse of the people in the street protests and also Justice JS Verma. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi were keen on a damage control.

The ordinance accepts most of the suggestions of Justice Verma Committee report. According to the ordinance, the punishment for rape can go up to 20 years in jail. A death sentence can also be given in extreme cases, which includes permanent body damage to a woman.

The word 'rape' will now be called 'sexual assault'. Sexual crime means unfavourable portrayal of women, stalking, women trafficking and acid attacks.

But the ordinance remains silent on marital rape. It also remains silent on another recommendation of the Justice Verma Committee, that is, changes in AFSPA. The Cabinet has also not accepted that politicians who face charges of sexual abuse should be debarred. The Cabinet is waiting for a consensus on this.

An ordinance cleared by the Union Cabinet on Friday night proposes that dereliction of duty by public servants in cases related to sexual has been made an offence punishable with up to one year in jail.

Justice Verma panel had recommended five years of jail for the offence. While the age of consent for “consensual sex” has been kept at 18 years, the ordinance has adhered to the juvenile age of 18 years. The home ministry, however, wants the juvenile age limit to be 16.

The ordinance for the first time defines “trafficking” as an offence, making it a punishable offence under Sec. 370 with seven years in jail. The ordinance entails changes in the criminal law by amending the Indian Penal Code, Code of Criminal Procedure and the Evidence Act.

The ordinance makes it “optional” for the police to videograph the recording of the evidence at the residence of the person reporting the offence. It has also made a provision under Sec. 273 where a victim below 18 years will not be confronted by the accused. The Verma panel’s recommendation that “evidence of character of previous sexual experience” is not relevant and that questions regarding the moral character will not be put to the victim during cross-examination have been accepted in toto.

The government now hopes to make more changes once the ordinance is referred to Parliament for approval.

Status of the Justice Verma Committee Recommendations

1) Gangrape (Justice Verma Panel Recommendation rejected) Verma panel recommended minimum punishment of 20 years and maximum of Life term

Ordinance said punishment should be death sentence in extreme cases

2) Verma panel recommended to hold Senior Police officer/Army officer responsible for sexual offence commited by junior

Ordinance rejected this recommendation

3) Videography of recording statement evidence from victim Justice Verma panel wanted it to be mandatory

Ordinance made it optional

4) AFSPA Justice Verma panel recommended no sanction to prosecute forces for sexual offence

Ordinance rejected this recommendation

5) Verma panel sought to keep the definition for sexual offences as rape Ordinance made the definition gender neutral by calling it sexual assault

6) Marital Rape Verma panel recommended to take out the clause of rape by husband during separation in Sec 376 A Ordinance retained the clause

7) Ordinance accepts Justice Verma panel recommendation for defining punishments for acid attacks, stalking, voyeurism, disrobing of women in public.
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News Updated at : Saturday, February 2, 2013
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