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India on Thursday joined eight other countries that maintain a registry of sex offenders. The registry, which will be maintained by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), will include names, address, photographs and fingerprints details of convicted sexual offenders.

In the United States, the sex offender registry is available to the public, whereas in India, and countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, and Trinidad & Tobago, the registry is available only to law enforcement agencies. The Indian registry is expected to list 4.4 lakh cases but the state police have been asked to update data from 2005 onwards. The government has promised that the database will not compromise any individual’s privacy. The database will have details of offenders convicted under charges of rape, gang rape, POCSO and harassing women.

The opening of the registry is timely because crimes such as rape, voyeurism, stalking and aggravated sexual assault are on the rise. The latest National Crime Records Bureau data shows there has been a 12% rise in rapes between 2015 and 2016, and that the majority of offenders are known to the victim. In a situation like this, the sex offenders’ list can definitely help the investigation and monitoring process as well as work as a deterrent.

However, there are some issues that need to be tackled before the registry starts its work.

First, what will be the process of categorising offenders? For example, can the recent rape of a minor in Kathua, Jammu and Kashmir, be termed more heinous than the rape that has been reported at a school in Dehradun, or vice versa?

Second, while in a digital age it is reasonable to expect the use of technology in crime detection and investigation, despite a promise to not to compromise the privacy of any individual, there will be legitimate concerns about the misuse of data. This concern has been tackled partly by allowing access to the registry only to law enforcement agencies.

Third, there is a possibility that this registry may tarnish a person’s life forever even if he is reformed after serving his legal sentence.

While the sex offenders’ list could help in enabling justice and monitoring an offender’s behaviour, the State must ensure that there is no overreach and misuse of the list. The government has also launched another portal to record complaints from citizens on objectionable content related to child pornography and other sexually explicit material.

First Published: Sep 20, 2018 18:02 IST

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