The Union Cabinet, in a major development, approved death penalty for aggravated assault under the law on sexual crimes against children, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad informed on Friday.

Cabinet has made punishment more stringent for committing sexual crimes against children and approved amendments to the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.

“This is a very wholesome initiative by the Union government. The government has brought about a far-reaching amendment in the POCSO Act. Our aim is to prevent children from falling victim to sexual aggression,” the law minister said after making the announcement that strives to further strengthen the law to safeguard minors in the country.

The Parliament had in August passed stringent legislation prescribing death penalty to those convicted of raping girls below the age of 12 years and making the law against such sexual offences harsher. The Bill replaced the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance promulgated on April 21.

The Union Cabinet had in April approved an ordinance to allow courts to award death penalty to those convicted of raping children up to 12 years of age.

The criminal law amendment ordinance sought to amend the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the Evidence Act, the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act to introduce a new provision to sentence convicts of such crimes punishment of death.

The move had come against the backdrop of the alleged rape and murder of girls in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kathua and Gujarat’s Surat district. The rape of a minor in Uttar Pradesh’s Unnao district had also outraged the nation.

The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, was passed by the Lok Sabha to strengthen the legal provisions for the protection of children from sexual assault, sexual harassment and pornography.

For the first time, a special law was passed to address the issue of sexual offences against children. Till then, sexual offences were covered under different sections of IPC. The IPC does not provide for all types of sexual offences against children and, more importantly, does not distinguish between adult and child victims.

Several states, including Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, have approved the death penalty for those found guilty of raping children below 12 years of age.

(With PTI inputs)