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India passes tougher law on sexual violence

Legislation follows spate of high-profile attacks

Swati Deb, New Delhi

March 22, 2013

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Parliament passed a sweeping new law on Thursday to protect women against sexual violence, giving courts the power to hand down the death penalty for or rape that leads to the victim's deaths. Repeat offenders also risk a death sentence under the new law.

The legislation comes in the wake of the fatal gang rape of a young woman on a moving bus in Delhi in December, which sparked angry protests across the country, and the rape of a Swiss tourist earlier this month in Madhya Pradesh.

“It is a good and timely law," Information Minister Manish Tewari told, saying it will be hailed as a milestone.

The law, which will go into effect with the signature of President Pranab Mukherjee, also makes stalking, voyeurism and sexual harassment punishable offences.

It makes it illegal for police personnel not to register a case after a rape allegation and increasesthe  punishments for various crimes against women.

"Much more is desired on implementation," opposition lawmaker Maya Singh of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said. Anyone over 16 years of age should be "punished as an adult" if found guilty of rape, she added.

Indian law considers a person below 18 years of age a juvenile but one of the accused in the December 16 Delhi gang-rape was 17 and is being tried by the juvenile justice board.

“If a juvenile is mentally fit to commit such crime, he is not a juvenile. If anyone is above 16, and rapes and murders a woman, he should be given the death sentence," Singh said.

Activists broadly welcomed the new law, although there are reservations about how effectively it will be implemented in this largely patriarchal country.

"This is a forward-looking bill but much more needs to be done," Ranjana Kumari, a noted women's right activist said.

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