Indian cabinet clears anti-rape bill: Report

NEW DELHI (AFP) - India's cabinet on Thursday gave the green light to a bill for harsher punishments for rapists, reports said, following a brutal gang-rape in New Delhi that sparked outrage and demands for tougher laws.

Premier Manmohan Singh's cabinet cleared the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Bill a day after a ministerial group gave its assent to the proposals, which will be discussed by political groups on Monday, NDTV television station said.

"The anti-rape bill has been cleared and all recommendations of the group of ministers accepted," IBNLive TV station quoted Law Minister Ashwini Kumar as saying.

The bill provides for a minimum prison sentence of 20 years for rape, which can be extended to natural life of the convict in jail, the Press Trust of India said, adding that the draft law also provided for the death sentence in the event a rape victim died or was in a "persistent vegetative state".

Under the existing law, a rapist faces a term of seven to 10 years in jail.

The bill also proposes to lower the age of consent from 18 years to 16 years, and recommends stern punishment for stalkers and voyeurs, NDTV reported.

The bill will become law if passed in parliament.

Last month President Pranab Mukherjee, through an ordinance, gave his assent to several temporary measures in line with the government's promise to improve safety for women in India.

A government-appointed panel in January recommended tougher laws after a 23-year-old student was savagely gang-raped by six drunken men on a bus on December 16. She died nearly two weeks later of horrific internal injuries.

Five of the suspects were put to trial in a fast-track court for abduction, gang-rape and murder. The key suspect, Ram Singh, was found dead in his prison cell on March 11. Police suspect the man hanged himself to death.

The sixth accused is a minor and is standing trial in a juvenile court.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.