India has approved the death penalty for pedophiles who rape girls under the age of 12, after millions of people were involved in a series of protests demanding the government sign into law the strongest possible penalty for pedophilia.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi held an emergency meeting in response to the child abuse epidemic that is sweeping the nation and the world, and announced the new zero tolerance policy for pedophiles. 

The executive order announced by India—the world’s second most populous country—also amends the criminal law to include more drastic punishment for convicted rapists of girls below the age of 16, government officials said on Saturday. In cases of the rape of a girl below the age of 16, the cabinet increased the minimum punishment to 20 years from 10 years.

India launched fast-track courts and a tougher rape law that included the death penalty after a gruesome assault on a young woman shocked the country in 2012, but India’s rape epidemic has shown no sign of dying down.

pedophile-death-sentence-india
People hold cards against recent incidents of child rape in the country, in Mumbai, India, Sunday, April 15, 2018

There were 40,000 rapes reported in 2016. The victims were children in a staggering 40 per cent of those cases. Every day, newspapers carry fresh stories of sexual violence against children.

The latest outpouring of national revulsion came after details emerged of the gang rape of an eight-year-old Muslim girl in a Hindu-dominated area of Jammu and Kashmir state. Local leaders of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party had appeared to offer support to the men accused, adding to the public disgust.

anti-pedophile-india
Anti-pedophile protesters demonstrates in Delhi.

Protests around the country were also prompted by the arrest of a lawmaker last week in connection with the rape of a young teenager in Uttar Pradesh, a populous northern state that is governed by the party.

More recently, a sexual attack on an 11-year-old girl was reported in Modi’s home state of Gujarat. The post-mortem revealed the girl had been tortured, raped, strangled and smothered.

Modi’s failure to speak out soon enough during the latest bout of public anger fuelled criticism that his government was not doing enough to protect children from sexual abuse.