Parliament on Tuesday approved a bill to protect children below 18 from sexual abuse, set up special courts for speedy trial of cases against them and provide stringent punishment extending up to life term for offenders.
"The bill is gender neutral. It seeks to protect children from sexual offences... the burden of proof will be on the accused," Women and Child Development Minister Krishna Tirath said winding up the debate in the Lok Sabha on the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Bill, 2011.
The bill, which was earlier cleared by Rajya Sabha, was approved by the Lower House by voice vote today.
Ms Tirath said all below 18 years would be treated as children and efforts have been made to keep provisions of the bill child-friendly. It contains provisions for in-camera trial of offences, she said.
Dismissing concerns over misuse of the law, Ms Tirath said, provisions have also been made to deal with offences of false complaints.
The bill found support from all sections of the House, although some members raised the issue of possible misuse of the stringent law.
Lalu Prasad (RJD) questioned why the government did not move the Supreme Court against the decision of the Delhi High Court decriminalising unnatural sex.
"We are not animals, we are humans. Why have you not gone to the Supreme Court?" he asked, adding "dirty pictures" were being made and it has become impossible to watch movies with family members.
Piloting the bill, Ms Tirath said the legislation has been necessitated because incidents of child abuse had increased immensely particularly in the NCR region.
She said according to a study conducted by her ministry in 13 states, 53 per cent of children accepted that they have been sexually exploited.
The minister said the bill has provision for the state governments to set up Special Court to try the offences under the Act. It has provision for stringent punishments for perpetrators of crime against children.
As per the Bill, "whoever commits penetrative sexual assault on children shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than seven years but which may extend to imprisonment for life and shall also be liable."
It said "whoever uses a child for pornographic purposes shall be liable for rigorous imprisonment which may extend to five years and shall also be liable to fine and in the event of second or subsequent conviction with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years and also with fine".
Among those who participated in the discussion were Ratna De (TMC), B Mehtab (BJD), Gorakhnath Pandey (BSP), Chandresh Kumari Katoch (Cong), Virendra Kumar (BJP), Sushmita Bauri (CPI-M) and Maheshwar Hazari (JD-U).