NEW DELHI • India has launched its first national register of sex offenders in a bid to stem crimes against women as the country reels from a series of high-profile rape cases.
The database will be accessible only to law enforcement agencies and not to the public, said a Home Ministry statement. The register contains 440,000 names, including those convicted of rape, gang rape, child sex crimes and sexual harassment. It will also provide their photographs, addresses and fingerprints, without compromising "any individual's privacy".
The register comes as a spate of sexual assault cases have rocked the country.
Earlier this week, police arrested the principal and four staff of a boarding school in northern India over the rape of a teenage student. Police said they detained four male students for the rape, which left the girl pregnant. The school staff are accused of covering up the crime.
In southern Kerala state, protests grew this week calling for the arrest of a bishop accused of repeatedly raping a nun over a period of two years.
Last month, police in northern Uttar Pradesh state rescued 20 girls and three boys from a home where they were sold for sex.
The call to establish a sex offenders register gained momentum following a nationwide outcry over the rape and murder of a Muslim girl in a Hindu-dominated area of Jammu and Kashmir state earlier this year. The accused, all Hindus, are currently on trial.
Number of names on India's sex offenders register.
Approximate number of rapes reported daily in India in 2016.
That case prompted the government to approve the death penalty for the rape of girls under 12, and also increase the prison term for the rape of older girls and women.
Despite various measures, India's rape epidemic has shown no sign of dying down. More than 100 cases were reported daily in India in 2016, showed the latest government data.
An op-ed piece in the Hindustan Times newspaper yesterday called the new sex offenders register "timely", but expressed worry that the government could overreach and misuse data, and warned it "may tarnish a person's life forever if he is reformed".
Ms Jayshree Bajoria of Human Rights Watch had similar concerns, telling the Thomson Reuters Foundation that even a rumour could prove dangerous in a country where incidents of mob justice have spiked recently.
"For any real change, the government must do the hard work of actually implementing the laws and policies" that were put in place after the 2012 gang rape of a young woman on a moving bus in Delhi, she said.