On September 20, 2018 India decide to launch a sex offenders’ registry in an effort to curb sexual crimes against women. However, this might do more harm than good as the government seems to have done minimal research before implementing this. It’s time that we take a hard look at this country’s shoddy criminal justice system.
Indian government’s solution to any crisis has always been a temporary one, to silence the masses when they protest against the government’s lack of action. After a nationwide outcry over the rape and murder of an 8 year old girl, the central government decided to launch the National Database on Sexual Offenders on September 20, 2018. It would contain names, addresses, photographs, fingerprints, DNA samples, and PAN and Aadhaar numbers of convicted sex offenders. It would also contain the personal details of people arrested or charge sheeted for sexual offences. It will only be accessible by certain law enforcement agencies and would not be made public. National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) has taken the responsibility of maintaining the records. Juvenile offenders might be added to the list too. With this, India joins the list of countries who have maintained such a registry including the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia.
According to the government, this sex offender registry would help to conduct background checks and police verification of prospective employees, tenants and speed up investigations. Offenders would be added to the registry the moment a complaint gets registered. According to a report in The Indian Express, the database contains more than 4.5 lakh cases.The sexual offences have been divided into three ‘tiers’ based on whether they pose a low, moderate, or high threat to society. Tier 1 will include those who are deemed unlikely to engage in criminal sexual conduct but are suspects in cases. They will end up being on the registry for fifteen years. Tier 2 offenders will include those who have raped people they know or are directly related to. These people will stay on the registry for 25 years or longer. Tier 3 includes gang rapists, people who kill and brutalize, or those in a position of authority over victims.
When you think about it, naming and shaming the sexual offenders might look like an absolutely great idea. However, when you closely examine the consequences and implications of this step, it might appear to be deeply problematic. Firstly, let’s think about the effects on people who would want to report about the sexual assault. According to 2016 government data, out of 38,947 cases of reported rapes in India, the accused was known to the victim in almost 95 percent of the cases. There is already a huge problem of underreporting sexual violence in India due to the victim-blaming and stigma attached to it. They are often discouraged from filing complaints against their perpetrators who they happen to know. This would further make people apprehensive about reporting sexual violence involving close family members and acquaintances. Furthermore, with the onus of evidence always on the victim and the concept of due diligence being a farce, several more cases of sexual assault go unreported.
Secondly, in India, the percentage of recidivism among arrested according to the data collected by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) for 2016 is only 6.4%. The NCRB does not have disaggregated data regarding the recidivism rate specifically for sexual offences, as stated by them in response to a Right to Information application sent by Amnesty International India, dated February 16, 2018. There is no basis for this database to be maintained.
Thirdly, this registry and maintaining of records would lead to social ostracisation of the offenders who might have spent years in jail, serving their sentence. This would lead to them not getting employment opportunities and housing. This might in turn, increase chances of them being a repeat offender, defeating the whole purpose of the registry. It can prove to be dangerous, especially for juvenile offenders who have their whole lives ahead of them. Harassment and violence against former offenders would obstruct their rehabilitation and their reintegration into the society.
Next, the names of the offenders would be linked with their Aadhar numbers. Now, we know the nuances of the Aadhar debate, how it is very easily accessible and violates the privacy of the citizens, now a Fundamental Right guaranteed by the Constitution. With the Indian Government inviting bids from private companies to create a registry, it is highly likely that this database would be accessed by them without consent.
Lastly, India’s age of consent criminalizes sexual activity below 16 years of age. There are high chances that false rape cases might be filed against kids who are just experimenting sexually.
It is important to understand that we need resources to speed up investigations and the never-ending trials at court. Resources are needed to provide support to the survivors. The police officers need to be properly trained when dealing with sexual assault cases. The allocation of such resources, instead of being channelized to creating a sex offenders’ registry should be aimed at the prevention of the crime.
Feature Image Credits: Feminism in India