Every horrific rape that grabs headlines sets off a fresh clamour for ‘tough’ laws and legislators are only too eager to fall in line with what they see as the popular mood. Their job, however, is not merely to tail what appeals to public sentiment at the height of an outrage but to enact laws that best serve society. That means finding ways to make the laws tough on criminals while ensuring that they are reasonable and minimise the scope for the innocent to be targeted.
In the specific case of sex with a minor girl, for instance, there are situations which no reasonable person would term as rape, but the law as it stands would consider statutory rape. For example, if two classmates happen to have consensual sex and the girl happens to be below 18. In the eyes of the law, that would be rape because she is deemed to be not old enough to give consent to sex. Surely, that is not reasonable.
Ideally the age of consent ought to be lowered to 16, but legislators may be loath to do that in today’s conservative climate. The least they can do in that case is to have a provision in the law that decriminalises sex between consenting partners where both are above 13 and the difference in their ages is, say, not more than five years. The fact that the accused is almost automatically arrested on a mere complaint also needs to be reviewed because of its obvious potential for misuse.
That having been said, there are indeed areas in which the law needs to get tougher. One of these is in dealing with cases of kidnapping and gang rape. The law as it stands says those proved guilty of this must get not less than 20 years in jail. We would suggest that the death penalty be prescribed in such cases just as it is in cases where the victim dies or is left in a permanent vegetative state. But the key to acting tough against rapists lies more in ensuring the guilty are brought to book than in enacting laws that sound tough. Prescribing the most stringent punishment cannot be an effective deterrent if the chances of getting caught and then getting convicted are seen to be minuscule.
-Times of India