President Ram Nath Kovind on Sunday signed an ordinance to allow the death penalty for those convicted of raping girls below 12 years of age, PTI reported. The Union Cabinet had approved the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance 2018 on Saturday.

The ordinance amends relevant provisions of the Indian Penal Code, the Evidence Act, the Code of Criminal Procedure and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act. It provides for fast-track courts to be set up to deal with child rape cases and special forensic kits for such cases to be given to police stations and hospitals in the long term.

In case of rape of a girl under 16 years, the minimum punishment has been increased from 10 years to 20 years, which could be extended to a life term. The ordinance does away with the provision for anticipatory bail in such cases. It also stipulates that investigation and trial in rape cases of minors must be completed within two months and appeals, if any, be disposed of in six months.

Currently, the maximum punishment for sexual assault of minors is life imprisonment, and the minimum sentence is seven years in prison.

The ordinance also raises the minimum punishment for rape of women from seven years to ten years, which could extend to life imprisonment.

An ordinance comes into effect immediately but lapses if it does not get the approval of both Houses of Parliament within six weeks after the next session begins. The Parliament will meet next for the Monsoon Session.

The government made the decision during an emergency Cabinet meeting in the backdrop of outrage against the rape and murder of an eight-year-old in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kathua district in January.

On Thursday, the Ministry of Women and Child Development had told the Supreme Court that it has started the process of introducing capital punishment for those convicted of raping girls below 12. This contradicted the government’s stand in February, when it had told the Supreme Court in response to a plea that the “death penalty is not an answer for everything”.