Rajya Sabha passes sex crimes bill; consent age remains at 18

The Rajya Sabha today passed into law the anti-rape bill, which retains the age for consensual sex at 18 years (dropping an earlier proposal to reduce it to 16 years) and makes voyeurism and stalking punishable offences.

The Lok Sabha had, on Tuesday, approved the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2013, and home minister Sushilkumar Shinde moved the bill in the Rajya Sabha today.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was present in the house when the bill was voted.

The house rejected a resolution moved by Communist Party of India leader D Raja, disapproving the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, which the bill seeks to replace.

The anti-rape bill will replace the ordinance promulgated by President Pranab Mukherjee on 3 February. The legislation had to be passed by Parliament before 4 April, when the ordinance would have lapsed.

The issue has been in focus since the brutal gang rape of a 23-year-old woman on a moving bus in Delhi on 16 December last year. The woman, a medical intern, died of her injuries after languishing in hospital for 13 days, during which public anger against such incidents reached an unprecedented crescendo.

During the debate on the bill earlier, several MPs questioned the efficacy of the new laws in dealing with cases of sexual crimes committed by influential people like politicians.

In response, home minister Shinde said the bill has a provision for punishing persons having "dominance", and this can be used to deal with influential rapists.

Participating in the debate, actress-turned-politician Jaya Bachchan said effective mechanisms needed to be put in place to deal with people who wield power. Often people in high positions, including ministers, indulge in crimes against women.

"A senior member of Parliament had made a very serious comment on a lady media person after the amendment bill was passed in the Lok Sabha (on Tuesday)," Bachchan of the Samajwadi Party said.

"How ineffective you are ... this is eyewash ... what kind of disciplinary action are you going to take against people in high positions, it's a shame, it's a shame," she said.