Legislators in India should substantially amend or replace the new law on violence against women in the coming parliament session, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said Tuesday.
On Feb 3, President Pranab Mukherjee signed the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance 2013, amending criminal laws, following protests from rights and women’s groups across the country.
Legislation addressing sexual violence should reflect international human rights law and standards, and incorporate key recommendations of the recently appointed Verma Committee, the rights groups said.
“The new ordinance at long last reforms India’s colonial-era laws on sexual violence, but fails to provide crucial human rights protections and redress for victims,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
“Indian MPs should insist on a law that deals with these critical issues,” she added.
Criminal law reform to address sexual violence has been the subject of national debate in India since the gang-rape and death of a 23-year-old woman in New Delhi in December.
The Indian government set up a three-member committee, headed by former Supreme Court chief justice J.S. Verma, to consider reforms to strengthen laws against sexual violence.
The new ordinance ignores the committee’s key recommendations, especially on police accountability and framing sexual violence as a violation of women’s rights to bodily integrity,” Amnesty and Human Rights Watch said.
“There should be a robust discussion in parliament before any law is enacted, and amendments should not ignore key recommendations of the Verma Committee or the views of women’s rights groups in the country,” said G. Ananthapadmanabhan, chief executive of Amnesty International India.
The ordinance falls short of international human rights standards in several ways, the groups said.
It fails to criminalize the full range of sexual violence with appropriate punishments in accordance with international human rights law.
It includes vague and discriminatory provisions, and introduces capital punishment in some cases of sexual assault.
The ordinance also retains effective legal immunity for members of state security forces accused of sexual violence, harms rather than helps teenagers by increasing the age of consent to sex, and defines “trafficking” in a way that might conflate it with adult consensual sex work.