India needs harsher punishment for rape, especially of minors—and also much better conviction rates
Given the nature of the crime, the Indian penal code (IPC) provisions for punishing rape have become a polarising topic. There are many who favour capital punishment or life-imprisonment (extending beyond the 14-years term). In the wake of the brutal Nirbhaya case, the 2013 Criminal Law Amendment Act expanded the scope of Section 376 of the IPC to allow for a minimum of 20 years of imprisonment to incarceration for the remainder of natural life or capital punishment under certain conditions. Others have advocated chemical castration or branding of rapist. Now, in the context of rape of minors, the Supreme Court has favoured harsher punishment, as per a report in the Times of India.
There can be no doubt that rape is a brutal crime and no measure of punishment for the perpetrator can ever be enough to address the anguish of the survivor, especially if she is a child—in 2012, nearly two-fifths of the survivors were aged below 18 years (13% were under 14 years of age). But even as we argue for harsher punishment, whether from a retributive or a deterrent point of view, we have to acknowledge that India has failed miserably in meting out justice, armed with even the existing provisions. As per National Crime Records Bureau data, in 2014 (data updated till 2014), while there was charge-sheeting in nearly 96% of the 36,735 reported cases of rape—showing that there was enough evidence for the police and prosecution to believe that the survivor’s case was genuine—conviction could only be achieved in 28%. Add the attempted-rape (94% charge-sheeting, 14% conviction) and other sexual offences (95% charge-sheeting, 27% conviction) statistics and unreported rapes/sexual offences, and we are staring at a dismal delivery of justice to India’s women and girls, whether chemical castration/capital punishment is in the picture or not.