India’s lower house on Tuesday passed a bill intensifying punishment for sex offenders as the country grapples with a series of sexual crimes that sparked national outrage.
Members of the lower house of parliament gave their assent to the Criminal Laws (Amendement) Bill, which also contains new penalties for stalking, groping, voyeurism and acid attacks, reports AFP.
The bill, which will be voted on the upper house, provides for a minimum 20-year prison sentence for gang-rape, which can be extended to life imprisonment. It also allows for the death sentence if the rape victim dies or is left in a vegetative state. Under existing Indian laws, rapists face 7 to 10 years in jail.
“This is just a first step in a journey of 1,000 miles,” said Harsimrat Kaur Badal, a female MP from the regional Shiromani Akali Dal party.
The bill’s approval came just days after a 39-year-old Swiss tourist was gang-raped in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, raising concerns on the safety of women, including foreigners, in the democratic nation.
The fatal gang-rape of a 23-year-old medical student traveling by bus in New Delhi sparked widespread protests over sexual violence against women in India.
On Tuesday, Lawmakers spoke out on the perils women face in India.
“We are today facing an epidemic in the country after the horrific incident of December 16 and it is my shameful admission that there have been 250 rapes since then,” said opposition Biju Janata Dal party MP Pinaki Misra.