New Delhi: The Lok Sabha Tuesday passed the much-awaited anti-rape bill which keeps 18 as the age for consensual sex and makes voyeurism and stalking punishable offences amid concerns by some members on certain provisions of the legislation.
The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2013, was tabled in the house by union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde a day after the cabinet approved its draft. The house debated it during the day. However, only around 200 members were present in the house when the bill came up for voting.
Several amendments were moved by opposition members but were defeated.
The bill is now likely to go to the Rajya Sabha Wednesday.
During the debate, members supported the bill but suggested tightening definition of stalking and voyeurism while opinions diverged on the proposal to keep the age of consent at 18.
The age of consent was 16 years under the Indian Penal Code but was raised to 18 in the anti-rape ordinance promulgated by the government in February this year. However, following inter-ministerial consultations, the government again thought of lowering it to 16 in the bill.
At the all-party meeting Monday, several political parties suggested the age of consent should be 18 years since the minimum age of marriage for girls was also 18.
During the debate, members across the political divide expressed their concerns on some of the provisions.
Congress member Sandeep Dikshit wondered that if a girl and a boy aged between 16 and 18 get into physical relations, "would they be called criminals" while Bharatiya Janata Party's Sumitra Mahajan defended the decision to keep the age of consent at 18. She, however, noted steps should be taken to prevent misuse of some provisions.
Samajwadi Party member Shailendra Kumar supported the bill but said the provisions of the bill could lead to change in attitude of employers in recruiting women.
Janata Dal-United leader Sharad Yadav said, "People will be afraid to hire women," adding that the biggest reason for suffering of women was caste discrimination.
He also warned the bill will lead to "jails being filled" as courts were already overburdened with cases. He said the bill was a short-term solution when there was need for long-term measures.
Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav said, "Will law stop (crimes)?" He added the bill sought to enhance powers of police, while Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Lalu Prasad also maintained the law will not help and some provisions could be misused.
On the other hand, Congress' Priya Dutt said there was perhaps no law which could not be misused. She said there was need to address issues such as incest in the bill.
Supriya Sule of the Nationalist Congress Party said there was no reason to apprehend that the bill will be misused by women, while Harsimrat Kaur Badal of the Shiromani Akali Dal said the definition of stalking should be tightened to prevent its misuse and demanded stricter provisions for acid attack.
The bill incorporates suggestions of the Justice J.S. Verma Committee formed to make the anti-rape laws stronger.
It prescribes punishment extending to death sentence for offenders for inflicting any injury which causes death of the victim or causes them to be in a persistent vegetative state.
The bill seeks to punish repeat offenders of rape with imprisonment of life (which shall mean the remainder of the person's natural life), or with death. It says that those convicted for the offence of gang rape shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a minimum of 20 years extendable to life imprisonment.
It also defines and prescribes punishment for stalking, voyeurism and sexual harassment.
The bill says that all hospitals shall immediately provide first aid and/or medical treatment free of cost to the victims of acid attack or rape.
The anti-rape bill will replace the ordinance promulgated by President Pranab Mukherjee Feb 3. The legislation had to be passed by parliament before April 4, when it would have lapsed.
The issue has been in focus after the gang-rape of a 23-year-old woman in Delhi Dec 16 last year. She died of grievous injuries 13 days later.