The Union Cabinet cleared the proposal for the introduction of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2012 in the Parliament on Friday.

In view of the growing sexual violence against women in the country, the Law Commission of India in its 172nd Report on 'Review of Rape Laws' and the National Commission for Women have recommended stringent punishment measures for sex-offenders in the country.

The suggestions laid out by the Law Commission and NCW were examined by the High Powered Committee (HPC) constituted under the Chairmanship of Union Home Secretary, before it submitted its report along with the draft Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2011 and recommended to the Government for its enactment.

Meanwhile, the draft was further scrutinised in consultation with the Ministry of Women and Child Development and the Ministry of Law & Justice, before the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2012 was drafted.

The highlights of the Bill include substituting sections 375, 376, 376A and 376B by replacing the existing sections 375, 376, 376A, 376B, 376C and 376D of the Indian Penal Code,1860, replacing the word 'rape' wherever it occurs by the words 'sexual assault', to make the offence of sexual assault gender neutral, and also widening the scope of sexual offences.

The punishment for sexual assault will be for a minimum of seven years which may extend to life imprisonment and also a fine for aggravated sexual assault. In cases, whereby a police officer within his jurisdiction or a public servant / manager or person taking advantage of his position, demand for sexual favours or indulge in sexual assaults, the accused would be levied a rigorous imprisonment, which shall not be less than ten years or may even extend to life imprisonment besides a fine.

The age of consent has been raised from 16 years to 18 years in sexual assault. However, it is proposed that the sexual intercourse by a man with own wife, who is under sixteen years of age, is not considered as sexual assault.

Provision for enhancement of punishment under sections 354 and 509 of IPC and insertion of sections 326A and 326B in the IPC for making acid attack a specific offence have been made.