February 5, 2013 — Indian President Pranab Mukherjee on Sunday signed into law a package of harsh measures to curb sexual violence, as the nation's leaders continue to grapple with the public outcry over the gang rape and death of a young woman in New Delhi, the New York Times reports. The measures take effect immediately, but India's Parliament must approve them within six months.
Among other provisions, the laws mandate that female police officers be present to help interview rape victims; allow the death penalty in cases where the victim dies or is left in a vegetative state; and make crimes such as voyeurism, stalking, acid attacks and sex trafficking punishable under criminal law.
The Times reports that the laws do not include additional measures suggested in a report a special committee released last month. The report called for criminal penalties in cases of marital rape and prosecution of sexual assaults in the military. It also expressly rejected applying the death penalty to rape cases and called for holistic reform, such as encouraging the government to bolster education.
In addition, women's groups have expressed concern that the package does not comprehensively address the issue (Yardley/Thirani Bagri, New York Times, 2/3).
Men Accused in Gang Rape Plead Not Guilty
In related news, the five men accused in the gang rape and death of the New Delhi woman pleaded not guilty on Saturday to all 13 charges against them, including gang rape, murder, kidnapping and conspiracy, the New York Times' "India Ink" reports.
The five suspects could face the death penalty if convicted. The Indian Juvenile Justice Board declared the sixth suspect a minor, and he faces a maximum sentence of three years in a detention facility.
Pretrial arguments were completed on Wednesday, and the trial is scheduled to begin on Tuesday in New Delhi (Thirani Bagri, "India Ink," New York Times, 2/2).
Debra Ness, publisher & president, National Partnership
Andrea Friedman, associate editor & director of reproductive health programs, National Partnership
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Melissa Safford, associate editor & policy advocate for reproductive health, National Partnership
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