Cabinet agrees to reduce age of consent to 16
The union cabinet Thursday cleared the anti-rape bill by agreeing to
replace the word "sexual assault" with "rape" and reducing the age of
consent from 18 to 16, informed sources said.
According to the bill, voyeurism, for the first time, would be a bailable offence while stalking would be a non-bailable offence, the sources said.
The sources said the cabinet cleared the bill at a meeting presided over by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
The cabinet had Tuesday deferred a decision on the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill due to lack of unanimity.
A Group of Ministers (GoM), headed by Finance Minister P. Chidambaram and set up by the prime minister to resolve differences, met Wednesday to thrash out pending issues, and agreed on replacing the word "sexual assault" with "rape" and reducing the age of consent from 18 to 16.
The GoM agreed to use the word "rape", where the victim was a woman and the perpetrator a male, since women activists were against the use of term "sexual assault", which would have made the bill gender neutral.
Sources said the government will now decide whether to go to the parliament directly with the bill or take the legislation to an all-party meeting March 18 called by Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath to evolve consensus on the issue.
Kamal Nath has spoken to Bharatiya Janata Party, Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party leaders on the legislation, said sources.
There is a sense of urgency in passing the legislation by March 22 as the bill will replace an ordinance promulgated by President Pranab Mukherjee Feb 3 and it has to be passed within six weeks from that date.
The first half of the budget session ends March 22 and the house will reconvene April 22.
The issue has been in sharp focus after the brutal assault and gang-rape of a 23-year-old woman in Delhi Dec 16 last year. She succumbed to her injuries Dec 29 in a Singapore hospital where she had been airlifted for specialised treatment.
Proposing the death penalty in the rarest of rare cases of rape and for repeat offenders while keeping marital rape out of its ambit, the ordinance was framed as an evidence of the government's intention to treat the issue of crimes against women with urgency.
It also incorporated suggestions of the Justice J.S. Verma Committee formed to give views to make anti-rape laws stronger.
Activists have accused the government of lacking political will to bring a stronger law for protection of women.