India has approved the death penalty for anyone convicted of raping a girl below the age of 12 after an emergency meeting convened by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in response to a string of horrific sexual attacks and murders.
The Union cabinet meeting headed by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi was convened within hours of his return from a recent trip abroad, where he faced significant bakcklash for the recent cases of rape, which have sparked nationwide protests.
The minimum jail term for rapists was also raised to 10 years, if the victims are over 16 years old, whereas rapists convicted of rape of a minor (below 16 years) will be sentenced to a minimum of 20 years. The federal government also ruled rape probes and trials cannot take more than two months each.
The Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) chief Swati Maliwal, who was on a hunger strike for nearly 10 days demanding death penalty for rape of minors and setting up of fast-track courts across the country to try rape cases, along with other demands, also ended her protest.
"Everyday children aged three, four or six years are getting raped in a brutal manner. I wrote letters and issued notices," Maliwal said according to NDTV.
"After which, I decided to sit on a hunger strike. There was no strategy, but gradually people joined the movement across the country. It gained such a momentum that the prime minister after returning to India had to make an amendment in the law. I congratulate the people of India for this victory."
The move comes amid widespread criticism of Modi's government for its lax attitude towards the protection of girls and women. Protests are putting pressure on his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as India heads towards a general election next year, Reuters reports.
Kailash Satyarthi, a Nobel laureate and children's rights activist, has described the proliferation of rape in India as "a national emergency," with almost 100,000 cases pending in the courts.
His words follow the rape and murder of eight-year-old Muslim girl Asifa Bano, from Kathua, as well as reports of another eight-year-old girl being raped in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh this week.
Bano had been attending a wedding with her family in the Etah district before her body was found limp and lifeless, next to an intoxicated and unconscious 18-year-old male, who was arrested.
"The girl is about eight to nine years old; she was raped and also she was strangled to death. The accused was nearby; he has been arrested," police officer Akhilesh Chaurasia said.
Bano's family said that while they were busy, the accused took her to a nearby half-built home where he raped and killed her.
Earlier this month, an 11-year-old girl in Surat was also raped and murdered by strangulation. The police report said she had 86 injuries and was also brutalized with blunt objects. The post-mortem report suggested a wooden object was used to inflict the injuries.
"Going by the nature of the injuries, they seem to be caused in the period ranging from one week to one day prior to the recovery of the body, suggesting that the girl might have been held captive, tortured and possibly raped," the doctor involved in the case was quoted by the Press Trust of India as saying.