The President issued the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance on February 3, 2013. This ordinance amends the Indian Penal Code, Criminal Procedure Code and the Indian Evidence Act. Here we explain what an ordinance is, how it is made and with what frequency it is used. This article was first published on Rediff and can be accessed here. What is an ordinance and who makes it? Under the Constitution, the power to make laws rests with the legislature. However, in cases when Parliament is not in session, and ‘immediate action’ is needed, the President can issue an ordinance. An ordinance is a law, and could introduce legislative changes. The Supreme Court has clarified that the legislative power to issue ordinances is ‘in the nature of an emergency power’ given to the executive only ‘to meet an emergent situation’. An example of immediacy can be seen in the ordinance passed in 2011 to give IIIT - Kancheepuram the status of an institute of national importance so that students could be awarded their degrees on completion of their course. What will happen to the ordinance when Parliament meets for the Budget session? After the ordinance is notified it is to be laid before Parliament within 6 weeks of its first sitting. The first sitting of Parliament in the Budget session this year will be February 21, 2013. Parliament could either choose to pass the ordinance, disapprove it or it may lapse within the 6 week time frame. In addition, the President may chose to withdraw the ordinance. Once the ordinance is laid in Parliament, the government introduces a Bill addressing the same issue. This Bill is supposed to highlight the reasons that necessitated the issue of the Ordinance. Thereafter, the Bill follows the regular law making process. An amendment to Criminal Laws addressing similar issues is currently pending in Parliament. How will this play out vis-à-vis the ordinance? The ordinance gives effect to some of the provisions of the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2012, with some modifications. In the upcoming Budget session the government may introduce a new Bill replacing both the Ordinance and the Amendment Bill currently pending in Parliament. The parliamentary Standing Committee is currently examining the Amendment Bill and is expected to submit its report by the end of March. How often does the President use this power to make ordinances? Data over the last 60 years indicates that 1993 saw the highest number of ordinances being passed, i.e. 34. In comparison, a fewer number of ordinances are now being issued. For example, in the last 10 years the average number of ordinances issued per year is 6.
The Protection of Children against Sexual Offences Act, 2012 was passed by both Houses of Parliament on May 22. The legislation defines various types of sexual offences against children and provides penalties for such acts. According to a report commissioned by the Ministry of Women and Child Development in 2007, about 53% of the children interviewed reported some form of sexual abuse. The law has been viewed as a welcome step by most activists since it is gender neutral (both male and female children are covered), it clearly defines the offences and includes some child friendly procedures for reporting, recording of evidence, investigation and trial of offences. However, the issue of age of consent has generated some controversy. Age of consent refers to the age at which a person is considered to be capable of legally giving informed consent to sexual acts with another person. Before this law was passed, the age of consent was considered to be 16 years (except if the woman was married to the accused, in which case it may be lower). Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 states that any sexual intercourse with a woman who is below the age of 16 years is considered to be “rape”. The consent of the person is irrelevant. This post provides a snapshot of the key provisions of the Act, the debate surrounding the controversial provision and a comparison of the related law in other countries. Key provisions of the Act
- The Act defines a child as any person below the age of 18 years and provides protection to all children from offences such as sexual assault, penetrative sexual assault and sexual harassment. It also penalises a person for using a child for pornographic purposes.
- The Act states that a person commits “sexual assault” if he touches the vagina, penis, anus or breast of a child with sexual intent without penetration.
- The Act treats an offence as “aggravated” if it is committed by a person in a position of authority or trust such as a member of the security forces, a police officer or a public servant.
- It specifies penalties for the offences and provides a mechanism for reporting and trial of such offences.
Debate over the age of consent After introduction, the Bill was referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resource Development. The Committee submitted its report on December 21, 2011 (see here and here for PRS Bill Summary and Standing Committee Summary, respectively). Taking into account the recommendations of the Standing Committee, the Parliament decided to amend certain provisions of the Bill before passing it. The Bill stated that if a person is accused of “sexual assault” or “penetrative sexual assault” of a child between 16 and 18 years of age, it would be considered whether the consent of the child was taken by the accused. This provision was deleted from the Bill that was passed. The Bill (as passed) states that any person below the age of 18 years shall be considered a child. It prohibits a person from engaging in any type of sexual activity with a child. However, the implication of this law is not clear in cases where both parties are below 18 years (see here and here for debate on the Bill in Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha). The increase in the age of consent to 18 years sparked a debate among experts and activists. Proponents of increasing the age of consent argued that if a victim is between 16 and 18 years of age, the focus of a sexual assault case would be on proving whether he or she consented to the act or not. The entire trial process including cross-examination of the victim would focus on the conduct of the victim rather than that of the accused (see here and here). Opponents of increasing the age of consent pointed out that since this Act criminalises any sexual activity with persons under the age of 18 years (even if consensual), the police may misuse it to harass young couples or parents may use this law to control older children’s sexual behaviour (see here and here). International comparison In most countries, the age of consent varies between 13 and 18 years. The table below lists the age of consent and the corresponding law in some selected countries.
Age of consent
|US||Varies from state to state between 16 and 18 years. In some states, the difference in age between the two parties is taken into account. This can vary between 2-4 years.||Different state laws|
|UK||16 years||Sexual Offences Act, 2003|
|Germany||14 years (16 years if the accused is a person responsible for the child’s upbringing, education or care).||German Criminal Code|
|France||15 years||French Criminal Code|
|Sweden||15 years (18 years if the child is the accused person’s offspring or he is responsible for upbringing of the child).||Swedish Penal Code|
|Malaysia||16 years for both males and females.||Malaysian Penal Code; Child Act 2001|
|China||No information about consent. Sex with a girl below 14 years is considered rape. Sodomy of a child (male or female) below 14 years is an offence.||Criminal Law of China, 1997|
|Canada||16 years||Criminal Code of Canada|
|Brazil||14 years||Brazilian Penal Code 2009|
|Australia||Varies between 16 and 17 years among different states and territorial jurisdictions. In two states, a person may engage in sexual activity with a minor if he is two years older than the child. In such cases the child has to be at least 10 years old.||Australian Criminal laws|
|India||18 years.||Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences Act, 2012|
The issue of honour killing grabbed headlines with the death of Nirupama Pathak, a Delhi-based journalist, who was alleged to have been killed by her family because she was pregnant and was planning to marry a person outside her caste. This was followed by two more cases of suspected honour killing (see here and here) in the capital. While incidences of honour killing are a rarity in the capital, such incidences are common in the northern states of India such as Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. The basic reason behind honour killings is the idea that a family’s honour is tied to a woman’s chastity. Thus, a wide range of causes can trigger honour killing such as marital infidelity, pre-marital sex, having unapproved relationships, refusing an arranged marriage or even rape. In India, honour killings take place if a couple marries outside their caste or religion. Khap panchayats also oppose and mete out punishments to couples who marry within the same gotra (lineage) or transgress other societal norms. A recent judgement by a sessions court in Karnal for the first time awarded the death penalty to five men for murdering a young couple who had married against the diktats of a khap panchayat. It gave life sentence to a member of the khap panchayat who declared the marriage invalid and was present when the killing took place. On June 22, the Supreme Court issued a notice to the centre and eight states to explain the steps taken to prevent honour killing. Taking a cautious approach the government rejected Law Minister, M. Veerappa Moily’s proposal to amend the Indian Penal Code and rein in the khap panchayats (caste based extra constitutional bodies). It however decided to constitute a Group of Ministers to consult the states and look into the scope for enacting a special law that would treat honour killing as a social evil. Experts are divided over the proposed honour killing law. Some experts argue that the existing laws are sufficient to deter honour killing, if implemented properly while others feel that more stringent and specific provisions are required to tackle the menace of honour killings.
|Existing Penalties under Indian Penal Code:
|Arguments favouring new law||Arguments against new law|
|Sources: “Define honour killing as ‘heinous crime’: Experts”, Hindustan Times, May 12, 2010; “Legal experts divided over proposed honour killing law,” Indian Express, Feb 16, 2010; “Legal Tangle,” Indian Express, July 10, 2010; and “Honour Killing: Govt defers decision on Khap Bill,” Indian Express, July 8, 2010; “Honour Killing: Govt considers special law,” Indian Express, July 9, 2010.|
Meanwhile, khap panchayats are up in arms defending their stance against same gotra marriage. They have demanded an amendment to the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 disallowing same gotra marriage. While condemning honour killings, some politicians such as Naveen Jindal and Bhupinder Singh Hooda have extended support to the demands of the khap panchayats. It remains to be seen if India is effectively able to address this tug of war between tradition and modernity.