Protesters call for harsh penalties for rapists in Amritsar, India, Jan. 3, 2013.

India Poised to Establish Death Penalty for Repeat, Fatal Rapes

Stiff new penalties aim to deter sexual assault.

Protesters call for harsh penalties for rapists in Amritsar, India, Jan. 3, 2013.
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Indonesia and Saudi Arabia inspire terror by executing drug dealers. In India lawmakers have approved a law intended to usher in similar fear for would-be rapists.

A bill to enhance criminal sanctions for sexual assault sailed through both chambers of India's parliament this week, featuring stiff prison terms and even death sentences for certain offenses.

The bill establishes "capital punishment for rapist if the act causes death for victim or leave her in a permanent vegetative state," The Times of India reports. "Repeat offenders may also get death penalty under the new law."

Under the law, only men can be convicted of rape.

The Hindu notes that the death penalty is available for repeat rapists only if they are convicted for their previous crime(s). The bill sets the legal age of consent at 18, The Hindu notes, but allows for sex within marriage if the woman is at least 15 years old.

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Approval from the president of India is needed for the bill to become law. It's unlikely that the largely ceremonial leader—trumped in the Indian political pecking order by the country's prime minister—would reject it.

Parliamentary debate focused in part on the criminalization of "acid attacks" that visibly scar victims for life. For the first time, that variety of assault was explicitly criminalized, with a minimum 10-year jail sentence upon conviction.

In India the death penalty is rarely carried out. In February, convicted terrorist Mohammad Afzal Guru was executed for his part in a 2001 attack on the Indian parliament. Terrorist Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab, who participated in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, was executed in November. Before that, there were no executions in India for eight years.

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The subcontinent has been plagued by an avalanche of international bad press—and furious domestic protests—prompted by particularly violent sexual assaults since December, including a gang rape on a Delhi bus resulted in the death of 23-year-old woman.

Earlier this month, a Swiss woman was gang-raped by four men in central India while on a bicycle tour. This week a British tourist jumped from an Agra hotel balcony after receiving an unnerving "massage offer" that she feared was a prelude to rape.

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