Verma panel recommends sweeping changes in laws, tougher penalties

FP

From amendments to the controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and criminal laws dealing with sexual violence against women to immediate steps to check trafficking of women and children, the three-member Justice J S Verma Committee Wednesday presented a detailed roadmap of steps the Centre and states should take to prevent sexual crimes against women.

The panel, however, left the maximum penalty in rape cases to life imprisonment but said this should be entire life in jail. It also did not suggest any changes to the Juvenile Justice Act in its 631-page report submitted to the Home ministry.

Observing that chemical castration — which has been talked of as punishment for rapists — needs to be researched, the panel said, "We note that it would be unconstitutional and inconsistent with basic human rights treaties for the state to expose any citizen without their consent to potentially dangerous medical side-effects. For this reason, we do not recommend mandatory chemical castration of any type as a punishment for sex offenders".

The ministry had formed the commission on December 23 "to suggest amendments to criminal laws to provide for quicker trial and enhanced punishment for criminals committing sexual assault of extreme nature against women" in the aftermath of the gangrape of a student in a Delhi bus.

If the government accepts the recommendations, it would mean amendments being brought to the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill 2012, introduced in Parliament on December 4.

During its deliberations, the panel, which included former Himachal Pradesh high court chief justice Leila Seth and former solicitor-general Gopal Subramaniam, received more than 80,000 suggestions.

Observing that "women in conflict area are entitled to all the rights and justice" and that "sexual violence by armed forces and uniformed men in conflict areas should be brought under ordinary criminal law", the panel has recommended that "there is an imminent need to review the continuance of AFSPA and AFSPA-like legal protocols in internal conflict areas as soon as possible. This is necessary for determining the propriety of resorting to this legislation in the area(s) concerned".

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