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India's president signs sex assault measures

  • February 3, 2013 - 11:06 PM

India's government on Sunday approved tough new laws to deter sexual violence against women, including the death penalty in certain rape cases, as leaders moved to respond to public outrage over a recent gang rape case.

The new package of laws, signed by President Pranab Mukherjee after earlier approval by the Cabinet, amends India's penal code and, for the first time, will apply the death penalty to rape cases in which the victim dies. The new measures also made crimes such as voyeurism, stalking, acid attacks and the trafficking of women as punishable under criminal law.

India's coalition national government has been criticized for its clumsy handling of the protests that erupted after the brutal Dec. 16 gang rape of a young woman, who later died. The new ordinance takes effect immediately, though it must be approved by India's Parliament within six months.

Reaction has been mixed. Even as some legal advocates praised the changes as overdue, leaders of different women's groups appealed Saturday to the president not to sign the measure, which they considered incomplete.

"This is a piecemeal and fragmented ordinance, which seems to be more of an exercise to make an impact," said Kirti Singh, a lawyer who specializes in women's issues. "After 20 years of not doing anything, they seem to be in a tremendous hurry to do something or the other to appease public sentiment."

Last month, a special three-member committee led by a former Supreme Court chief justice completed a far-reaching report that urged the government to act on a broad range of measures, including changes to criminal penalties, but also placing an emphasis on education and a holistic solution.

While the new measures followed some of the recommendations by the committee, others were ignored, including the panel's call for criminal penalties in cases of marital rape. In addition, the committee pointedly rejected the death penalty.

NEW YORK TIMES

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