The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2013, which was passed in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, prescribes stringent punishment, including a natural life term, for crimes against women, or even death for repeat offenders of rape. Importantly, it makes stalking, voyeurism and acid attacks punishable offences.

The Bill seeks to replace an Ordinance promulgated on February 3.

The proposed law seeks to amend the Indian Penal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure, the Indian Evidence Act and Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act.

Aiming to deter rapes and gang rapes, the proposed legislation states that an offender can be sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for a term not less than 20 years, but which may extend to life, meaning imprisonment for the remainder of that person’s natural life. It also has provisions for handing out the death sentence to offenders who may have been convicted earlier of such crimes.

For the first time, acid attack has been defined as a crime and the Bill also grants a victim the right to self-defence. Those found guilty of the crime will face a minimum 10-year jail term.

The Bill defines and prescribes punishment for stalking, voyeurism and sexual harassment. It seeks to widen the definition of rape, broaden the ambit of aggravated rape and enhance the punishment for these.

As per the Bill’s provisions, hospitals would have to provide immediate first aid and/or medical treatment free of cost to victims of acid attack or rape; failure to do so will attract punishment.

Though it also proposed to fix the age of consent for sex at 16 years, the government moved an amendment to drop this particular clause, as decided at an all-party meeting on Tuesday. The Bharatiya Janata Party, the Samajwadi Party and some other political parties had opposed lowering the age of consent for consensual sex as well as making stalking and voyeurism non-bailable offences as they felt the provision could be misused. They contended that since the age of marriage was 18, the age of consent should be the same. However, according to the Bill, having sex with wife, who is not less than 15 years, will not be considered rape.

Offenders who are from the police, or are public servants, members of the armed forces or hospital management or staff would face a minimum jail term of seven years, with provisions for extension to life imprisonment, and a fine.

The Bill also seeks to amend the Indian Evidence Act to allow a rape victim, if she is temporarily or permanently mentally or physically disabled, to record her statement before a Judicial Magistrate with the assistance of an interpreter or a special educator. It also has provisions for video recording of proceedings.

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