Members of the Kashmiri Joint Resistance Leadership take part in a protest in Srinagar on Feb. 22 demanding the death penalty in the rape and murder case involving 8-year-old Ashifa Bano, who was abducted in January. (Photo by AFP)
Haryana has become the third Indian state in four months to make a law stipulating capital punishment for raping minor girls in a bid to contain the increasing sexual violation of children, but church leaders oppose the move.
The state's legislative house passed the law on March 15, imposing the death penalty on anyone convicted of raping a girl aged 12 or below. It came a week after the western state of Rajasthan passed a similar law, while Madhya Pradesh introduced one in December.
Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar said the law "will act as a strong deterrence" to check cases of rape in the state, which has an increasing trend of crimes against women.
"The Catholic Church is opposed to the death penalty," said Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal in the capital of Madhya Pradesh state.
He said such a blanket law would not be an effective deterrent as rape happens for various reasons.
Indian society generally is not so open to issues of sex as in the West and "sheer curiosity and other ignorance lead a weak person to prowl on little girls" and commit rape, said Archbishop Cornelio.
He said the first step is to make "people educated and civilized, not to make laws to kill them. Sex education should start in schools and families, and that should help society to see sex not as taboo and a fact of life. That will help us be more open in society to deal with issues of sex. I am worried about the life and safety of victims of rape as there is all possibility that the accused will eliminate victims to destroy the evidence."
Under the previous law, the maximum punishment for rape was seven years in jail, which legislators in Haryana agreed was not enough to check violence against women.
Local media reports showed that crimes against women including rape of minors have been increasing in the state in the past year to an average of 3.3 cases a day.
Madhya Pradesh introduced the death penalty in December after a National Crime Records Bureau report said the state had 4,882 rapes in 2016 or an average of 14 a day.
The federal report said India recorded 38,947 rape cases in 2016 and about 8,000 of the victims were children below the age of 12.
The data painted a grim picture, with details showing that 520 victims were children below the age of six, 1,596 were aged six to 12 and 6,091 were aged 12 to 16.
Victims included all age groups as 57 were aged above 60, the report showed.
However, the death penalty is not a solution to rape, said Sister Carole Geeta, a rights activist and lawyer working in Rajasthan.
The Mission Sisters of Ajmeer nun said such "harsh punishment does not serve any good to society" as generally rapists of minor girls are first-time offenders and not habitual offenders.
When someone commits such a heinous crime for the first time, he should get a chance to reform himself and with this law the "right of a rapist to transform his life is lost," she told ucanews.com.
"I do agree that there should be hard punishment, but not capital punishment."
Father Stanley Kozhichira, the national president of Catholic media organization Signis India, told ucanews.com that "rape is the result of the attitude of people and therefore it is important to take corrective measures."
"Unless we change our approach toward our fellow brothers and sisters, a harsh law cannot bring about much change," he added.