New Delhi, April 7 (IANS) Days after a stronger anti-rape law was enacted, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Sunday said while his government has moved fast to bring about significant reforms in laws on crimes against women in the aftermath of last year’s brutal gang-rape, much more needs to be done.
Speaking at a conference of chief ministers and chief justices of high courts here, the prime minister said the “national outrage” after the Dec 16 gang-rape forced “urgent introspection” on anti-rape laws and the justice delivery system, “but we must not allow ourselves to be overcome by a sense of despair at some of the demonstrated inadequacies of our legal system”.
He said the government had moved “with expedition” to respond to the nationwide outpouring of anger in the aftermath of the rape and had “brought about significant amendments in the criminal law to effectively deal with heinous offences against women”.
The 23-year-old woman was raped by a gang of five men and a juvenile on board a moving bus in south Delhi. She died two weeks later in a Singapore hospital where she was flown for treatment.
In the wake of nationwide protests, the government promulgated an ordinance in February to enforce harsher anti-rape laws. The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2013, which replaces the ordinance, was passed by parliament and signed into law by the president earlier this week. It provides for increased sentence for rape convicts, including life-term and death sentence in rarest of rare cases.
The prime minister said: “Notwithstanding the steps that have already been taken, a great deal more needs to be done as far as offences against women are concerned”. The Indian capital has already seen more than 350 rapes since the beginning of the year, as against 660 last year.
He also said that at a time when the demand for judicial reforms and change in the legal processes “has acquired a new urgency, we must ensure that the voice of sanity and logic is not suborned to the momentary impulses of the day”.
Terming India’s current ratio of 15.5 judges per million people as “indeed grossly inadequate”, Manmohan Singh urged states to take the initiative in increasing number of judges to deal with the three crore pending cases across the country.
Chief Justice of India Altamas Kabir stressed the need for strengthening the juvenile justice system in the country, and to provide adequate protection for juveniles who are in conflict with law.
“Forty-two percent of our population in India are children. How many of us even think of children as the potential force for the future?”
“Large number of them (children) do not have proper facilities despite best of our efforts and intention. This leads to number of problems, particularly drug addiction is the worst problem. To address these, we have to strengthen the juvenile justice system.”
Chief Justice Kabir also stressed the need to protect the rights of juveniles, particularly underprivileged children.
“We have children with good education, they are from the elite class but what about the rest. Ten to 15 years down the line when the new generation will take over, there might be chaos if these children are not taken care of.”
Two months ago, amid demands for harshest punishment to juveniles who commit gruesome crimes against women like rape, the CJI had said: “Someone below 18 years of age comes under minor category and the law takes its course as per the law of the land.”
There has been a demand for reducing the upper age limit for juveniles under the criminal justice system from 18 years to 16 in the wake of a juvenile’s involvement in the brutal Dec 16 gang-rape.
The minor was sent to a juvenile justice home and has been charged under the Juvenile Justice Act.
Child rights activists have been stressing that the best solution was to provide proper care and help to juveniles so that they don’t turn into criminals.