In what’s being widely considered as a positive step towards safeguarding the interests of women, India released its first list of sex offenders, becoming the ninth country in the world to do so.
The decision to come up with a database was first brought up after the December 2012 Nirbhaya gangrape case. It was brought up again after sexual assault cases of minors in the gruesome Kathua and Unnao rape cases.
What is a sexual offenders registry?
The National Registry of Sexual Offenders is a database of people who have been convicted for committing sexual crimes. It will include names, photographs, residential address, fingerprints, DNA samples, and PAN and Aadhaar numbers of convicted sexual offenders.
Who will come under the sex offenders registry?
The database will be stocked with over 4.5 lakh cases, including profiles of first and repeat offenders. The information will be sourced from prisons across the country. The offenders will be classified on how dangerous they are for the society.
How will the offenders be classified?
Records of offenders in each category will be kept for specific durations. Data of people in the ‘low danger’ category will be stored for 15 years. For those in the ‘moderate danger’ category will be stored for 25 years. Information on habitual offenders, violent criminals, gangrape convicts and custodial rapes will be kept for their lifetime.
However, there is a possibility that those in the “low danger” category could still remain in the registry even after their sentences are over. This immediately removes the scope of reformation.
Who can see this list?
Unlike the US, where the database can be accessed by the public and they can sign up for the public notification system, in India the registry can only be accessed by law enforcement agencies.
How will it affect minors?
The law relating to sexual offences committed on children is gender-neutral. But, we are still don’t know whether the registry is going to be gender-neutral or not. In that case, it’s possible that even consensually sharing intimate pictures will come under sexual harassment and names of the minors could end up on the registry. But we still don’t know whether juvenile offenders would be included in the registry.
Which other countries have this registry and is it effective?
Eight countries have a sex offender registry: UK, Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa and Trinidad & Tobago.
The United States is the only country that has a database which is accessible to the public. Studies in the US have revealed that the registry has not affected crime rates.
What are the arguments for the registry?
DCW chairperson Swati Maliwal is one among those who have strongly advocated for the database to be made public. But this would be counterproductive for India where the rates of reporting for sexual offences is already low. If the list is made public, it would discourage victims from complaining against the offenders, who are often known or are related to them. Making it public will also give rise to data protection and privacy concerns.
What are the arguments against it?
Apart from the problem that some offenders will continue to remain on the list even after serving their sentences, which leaves very little scope for reformation, which is counter-productive, studies show that such registries actually result in increased recidivsim (or the the tendency of a convicted criminal to reoffend).