India is to launch a national register of sex offenders in a bid to combat a rise in reports of sexual violence against women and children, following nationwide outrage over a string of high-profile gang rape cases.
The National Database of Sexual Offenders (NDSO), which will be accessible only to law enforcement agencies, currently contains the details of more than 440,000 offenders convicted of rape, gang rape, child sex crimes and sexual harassment, according to a home ministry statement.
Continents and regions
Crime, law enforcement and corrections
Crimes against persons
Sex and gender issues
Child sexual abuse
The database will include the names, addresses, photographic ID and fingerprints of offenders, but "will not compromise any individual's privacy," said the statement.
Announced on Thursday, the move comes amid a spate of sexual assault cases, the latest involving a 7-year-old girl who was raped with a water hose in Delhi on Monday.
In an interview with CNN, Kiren Rijiju, the Minister of State in India's Home Affairs Ministry, described sexual violence as "the greatest enemy" facing Indian society and said that every effort must be made to fight it.
"Whatever we have been doing is not enough ... It's shameful for our whole society," Rijiju said.
India was ranked the most dangerous country in the world to be a woman in a survey published by the Thomson Reuters Foundation in June.
Increase in crimes
According to the National Crime Records Bureau, there were 39,000 rapes in India in 2016, a rate of roughly one rape every 13.5 minutes. The total marked a 12% spike over the previous year.
The push to establish the registry follows mass protests in support of tougher measures to reduce the levels of sexual violence.
In April, thousands of people took to the streets across India in reaction to the rape and killing of an 8-year-old girl in the isolated Himalayan district of Kathua. The girl was drugged, gang-raped and strangled before her body was dumped in the forest five days later. Three police officers and a former government official were among the eight men arrested in the attack.
In another shocking case, an 11-year-old girl in Chennai was drugged and gang-raped in July by 17 men, ranging in age from their 20s to 60s, who worked in the building where she lived, according to police.
What is the NDSO?
With the launch of the NDSO, India joins a small number of other countries, including Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States, in maintaining a record of convicted sex offenders.
However, unlike in the US, where the database can be accessed by the public, the NDSO will be available only to law enforcement agencies.
But anti-sexual violence campaigners have voiced concerns about its misuse, in particular the potential for government overreach.
Enakshi Ganguly, co-founder of the HAQ Center for Child Rights, a Delhi-based NGO, said that database would not "be helpful for India."
"Everything that is an instrument of change can be used to target the same people and used for corruption. Can you imagine police having access to this level of information?" said Ganguly. She suggested that corrupt police could use the information to target individuals for crimes they may not have committed. "The only saving grace is that it's not going to be a public registry," she added.
The database will be maintained by India's centralized National Crime Records Bureau, the government agency responsible for collecting and analyzing national crime data.
Tackling sexual crimes through technology
India on Thursday also launched an online portal to report complaints relating to online sexual abuse, child pornography and sexually explicit content such as rape.
The portal will enable people to anonymously make a complaint, which will be handed to police in the complainant's respective state or union territory.
In spite of introducing new measures and legislation, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has come under fire for failing to publicly address the issue of sexual violence.
Rijiju told CNN it was "more than a political issue."
"When it is a case of rape ... don't link it to any political party or religious group. Just treat it as a heinous crime and the accused as a criminal," said Rijiu.
"It's a social issue...it's not one party's issue."