Rapists who attack girls under the age 12 could be handed death sentences if a bill passed in one Indian state becomes law.

Politicians in Madhya Pradesh voted through the legislation earlier this week. It will now be sent for approval or dismissal by the country’s central government and President Narendra Modi.

“There are people in society who can be set right only by severe punishments,” the state’s chief minister, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, told The Hindu newspaper. He added that the bill would “deal with them” and “raise awareness in society against such crimes.”

Other sentences available for the crime include life imprisonment or a minimum imprisonment of 14 years with a fine, the Press Trust of India reported. 

Human rights campaigners have opposed the plan.

“The Madhya Pradesh legislature’s concern on the issue of child sexual abuse is welcome, but the solution is misplaced,” said Asmita Basu, of Amnesty International India. “There is no evidence that the death penalty is more of a deterrent than prison terms.

“The government should, instead, focus on ensuring the certainty of justice rather than increasing the severity of punishment.”

She added: “The death penalty is the ultimate violation of the right to life. In India, its use has been highly arbitrary, and it has disproportionately affected socially and economically marginalized people. The President must not allow this regressive bill to become law.”

Other proposed changes to the law include cracking down on men who make false promises of marriage in order to have sex with women, the Hindustan Times reported.

According to India’s National Crime Records Bureau, more than 38,000 rapes of women were recorded in 2016, of which 4,882 happened in Madhya Pradesh.

Victims under 18 numbered 2,479 in the state, while 192 were under 12.

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