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Mar 14, 2013 at 11:52pm IST

Cabinet clears anti-rape Bill draft, acid attack, stalking and voyeurism to be made criminal offences

New Delhi: The final draft of the anti-rape Bill, which proposes stringent punishment for rape, acid attack, stalking and voyeurism besides reducing the age of consent for sex to 16 years from 18, was cleared by the Union Cabinet on Thursday evening. "Anti-rape Bill has been cleared. All recommendations of the GoM accepted," said Law Minister Ashwini Kumar.

After much debate and differences within the Cabinet over the provisions in the proposed bill, the Empowered Group of Ministers-led by Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram had on Wednesday finalised changes to the draft. "We have gone through every provision of the proposed bill and all issues have been resolved. Now the matter will go to Cabinet on Thursday and hopefully it will be passed on Thursday," Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal had said on Wednesday.

The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2013, which proposes stringent punishment for crimes against women, including rape, also defines acid attack, stalking and voyeurism as criminal offences. It also lowers the age of consent for sex from 18 to 16 years and makes 'rape' as a gender-specific offence under which men only can be charged for it. The bill, which was brought against the backdrop of the December 16 Delhi gangrape, provides for minimum jail term of 20 years for rape and can be extended to 'natural life' of the convict in jail. There is also a provision for death sentence if the victim dies or is left in a 'persistent vegetative state'.

Stalking and voyeurism have been defined as criminal offences in the bill. Sustained stalking will be a non-bailable offence. The bill had divided the Cabinet at its special meeting on Tuesday and was referred to a Group of Ministers (GoM) to sort out differences on various aspects of the proposed law. The GoM finalised the draft on Wednesday amidst the government's keenness to expedite the bill that will replace an ordinance promulgated on February 3.

The bill uses the term 'rape' which will be gender- specific, in contrast to the gender-neutral 'sexual assault' as proposed in the ordinance. The bill also lowers the age of consent for sex from 18 to 16 years. In the ordinance, it was 18 years. The measure, on the lines of the ordinance, has not touched on the issue of making marital rape a separate offence.

The clearance of the bill by the Cabinet has paved the way for its introduction n Parliament before it goes into recess on March 22, which is necessary as

it will have to replace an Ordinance which will expire on April 4.

(With additional information from PTI)

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