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Delhi gang-rape case could be turning point for India's rape laws (+video)

India is considering a fast-track court process to expedite rape cases and step up punishment for sexual violence on the heels of the bus rape incident that spurred outrage across India.

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The gang-rape and beating of a 23-year-old woman on a private bus as it cruised around Delhi Sunday could be the turning point for improvements in the country’s rape laws.

After nearly a week of massive protests across the capital demanding tougher punishments for rapists and better protection of women, the parliamentary standing committee will meet next week to discuss creating fast-track courts for those accused of rape. 

Proposals for changes in the law come at a critical time. Many people say there is little deterrent for rapists: Because of social stigma, few females come forward to report the crime. Those that do often have to wait years for their cases to be heard. And even then, the conviction rate is just 34.6 percent, according to the National Crimes Record Bureau. Delhi has the highest number of rapes in the country, with 572 rapes reported last year. While Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code lists punishments of up to a life sentence for rape, those convicted are often let off after serving only a few months or years.

But fast-track courts could change how people think about such crimes by expediting the trial period. Proposed amendments would also provide better privacy for women with in-camera trials, which would keep them from being in the same room as the accused.

While politicians and activists are encouraged that the public outrage could push parliament to reform laws, Anil Bairwa of the Association for Democratic Reforms says fast track courts will not solve the problem.

He points to a report released this week that found as many as 27 Indian politicians in senior positions have rape or molestation cases pending against them.

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