New Delhi: India will join a club of eight countries with a sexual offender database to monitor and track those convicted of such crimes, amidst growing criticism against it in the US, where it is pursued aggressively.
The Cabinet today approved promulgation of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2018 to award death sentence to child rapists and said that the National Crime Records Bureau will maintain a national database and profile of sexual offenders.
This data will be regularly shared with states and Union Territories for tracking, monitoring and investigation, including verification of antecedents by police.
Many organisations such as the Human Right Watch and ACLU have spoken out against the sex offenders registry, claiming that it negates the concept of rehabilitation and perpetuates social stigma.
“Government statistics (in the US) indicate that most sexual abuse of children is committed by family members or trusted authority figures, and by someone who has not previously been convicted of a sex offence.
“In India, too, children are often sexually abused by people known to them and regarded as authority figures. The government must ensure implementation of existing measures…including enforcement of the POCSO Act,” Jayshree Bajoria, author of Human Rights Watch report documenting barriers to justice for sexual assault survivors in India, told PTI.
While the registry in the US is public, in other countries like Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa,Trinidad and Tobago and United Kingdom, where such data of convicted sex offenders is maintained, it is purely for the consumption of the law enforcement authorities.
It is not clear if the Indian database will be made public or not.
“Once such a registry comes into being, I am concerned that it might lead to people not reporting rapes or sexual offences, because most of them are by people known to the victims. Also, once you are on the registry, it will mean no jobs, no chance to rehabilitate. Across the world such registries have failed to act as a deterrent,” said Bharti Ali of HAQ Centre for Child Rights.
An HRW report in fact states that such offender lists “may do more harm than good”.
Activists in India say that the talk of these lists is a knee jerk reaction to cases such as the Kathua and Unnao rape cases, both of which involved minor victims, and is intended to satisfy the public rage against sexual abuse by strangers.
“If it is a family member, a person known to the family of the victim, which is true in most cases in India, will this work? I have my doubts. The registry operates most aggressively in the US. However, there is very little evidence in that country to show that it has helped to prevent sexual assaults against children,” said Supreme Court advocate K V Dhananjay.