politics

India Approves Death Penalty for Child Rapists After Outcry

  • Public protests over two rapes risked eroding Modi’s support
  • Ordinance to deal with fugitive economic offenders approved
A protest in support of rape victims in Mumbai on April 15. Photographer: Punit Paranjpe/AFP via Getty Images

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet cleared an ordinance that imposes the death penalty on convicted child rapists.

The amendment to the nation’s criminal law, which allows the death sentence in cases of rape of girls under age 12, was approved on Saturday, an official told reporters in New Delhi after the cabinet meeting. Once the president signs the ordinance, it will become a law.

The government acted after the recent failure of India’s ruling party to act on the growing outrage over two brutal rapes risked eroding Modi’s support ahead of state and national elections. United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres had urged authorities to act, according to the Times of India newspaper.

The cabinet also raised the minimum sentence in cases of rape of a woman to 10 years from the current seven, and in the rape of a girl under 16 years of age to 20 years from 10. In a crime that shocked India, an 8-year-old Muslim girl in Jammu and Kashmir was kidnapped in January, drugged, held for several days in Kathua, was raped multiple times then murdered, local police said. In Uttar Pradesh, a state lawmaker from Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party is accused in a June 2017 rape case in Unnao.

At the same meeting the cabinet approved an ordinance to deal with fugitive economic offenders. When it becomes a law, authorities will have the power to confiscate the property of people who have fled the country after committing an economic crime involving one billion rupees ($15.1 million) or more.

The new rule to curtail economic offenses was approved months after disclosure of India’s biggest bank fraud. Jewelers Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi, accused of masterminding the fraud of more than $2 billion, left the country long before it was reported. The incident undermined government’s efforts to shore up finances of state-run banks already struggling with soured loans.

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