Indian state passes Bill awarding death penalty to those who rape or gang-rape girls aged 12 years or less

NEW DELHI - The Indian state of Madhya Pradesh has passed a Bill awarding the death penalty to those convicted of rape and gang-rape of girls aged 12 years or less.

In a country where rape and other violence against women has been increasingly in the headlines, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said, " Those who rape 12-year-old girls are not human beings but demons. They have no right to live."

The government appears to have taken its cue from mounting calls for harsher punishment of rapists in the wake of a gang-rape in the state capital, Bhopal, where a 19-year-old girl was gang-raped for three hours by four men in early November, reported the Zee News website.

The men allegedly tied up the girl and took turns to sexually assault her, taking breaks to have tea and chew tobacco.

The victim's mother is reportedly a police constable, while her father is associated with the Railway Protection Force.

Mr Chouhan has ordered a Special Investigation Team (SIT) probe into the incident, which has been seen as a blot on the state government. Four police officials were suspended over the incident.

Meanwhile, the Madhya Pradesh government has also made repeated stalking a non-bailable offence.

"Repeated stalking too will be a non-bailable offence and offenders will be punished," said Mr Chouhan.