NEW DELHI: A strongly worded Madras High Court judgement has asked the Centre to consider castration as punishment for those convicted in rape cases where the victims are children.

The court cannot be a silent spectator, unmoved and oblivious of the horrible blood curdling gang-rapes of children in various parts of India," the Madras HC bench said.

Justice N Kirubakaran, pointing to the fact that crimes against children were on the increase (between 2012 and 2014, he said, the number of these crimes had increased from 38,172 to 89,423), said that "The law is ineffective and incapable of addressing the menace.”

The Justice further added that "the court is sure the castration of child rapists will fetch magical results,” pointing to countries like Russia, Poland and nine American states where chemical castration for convicted pedofiles exists.

"Though the suggestion of castration looks barbaric, barbaric crimes should definitely attract barbaric models of punishment and the very thought of the punishment should deter the culprit from committing the offence," Justice Kirubakaran said.

Referring to the judgement, Kavita Krishnan, Secretary, AIPWA told The Citizen, “The suggestion is highly unfortunate and irresponsible. It has been widely accepted that most such crimes are committed by father/stepfather or very close relatives, other problem is that such cases are grossly under-reported because mother or any other relative finds it hard to go against their own family members. Such kind of irresponsible is going to have further chilling effect. What child is going to report against his own father when he knows that the father is going to be hanged or castrated. Flavia Agnes has seconded the same view. This is a lynch mob mentality, and judiciary should steer clear from it and pay heed towards what was written in JS Verma report. The current suggestion is completely draconian.”

Chemical castration refers to giving anti-androgenic drugs to stop the production of sex hormones in the belief that it will prevent perpetrators from being able to act on inappropriate sexual desires.

The practice, however, has major problems, relating to its efficacy in keeping children safe from sexual offenders and also in reference to whether forcing people to take this medication breaches their human rights.

Firstly, let’s look at why chemical castration is so widely accepted even in the so-called developed world (where physical castration is considered barbaric and the domain of the “other” non-civilised world including countries in West Asia).

Chemical castration is projected as a “cure”. The perpetrator is “ill” and can be “fixed” or “cured” by the “treatment” administered to him. The state is doing the “ill” perpetrator a favour, “saving” him if you will.

Physical castration? That’s incomparable. It’s barbaric. It’s treating a crime with a crime.

But is chemical castration any different from physical castration? Can it be considered a medical treatment when it is known to have severe side effects, not to mention many unknown outcomes.

And is sex offending an “illness” that can be treated in the first place? And even if it were (which it is not), can giving someone a drug that harms their body qualify as “treatment”?

Further, the fact that chemical castration is offered to offenders who are in prison as a barter of sorts, raises huge concerns regarding freedom of choice. If you’re locked away in a cell, do you really have the freedom to take a decision where you must accept damage to your body in exchange?

Let’s be real. Chemical castration is as barbaric as physical castration, and projecting it as a “cure” or “treatment” is messed up. It is unequivocally physical harm caused by the state, and should be treated as such.

Additionally, the practice has questionable efficacy. While some studies indicate that preventing the production of testosterone in offenders reduces their sexual drive, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) notes that studies of sex offender treatment are plagued with methodological problems.

Further, a recent British Medical Journal article article reports that there is: “weak evidence for interventions aimed at reducing re-offending in identified sexual abusers of children.”

Another review on states that “research is so weak that, were the treatment not so plausible it would have to be regarded as empirically unsupported.”

As an article in points out: “Even among the most enthusiastic proponents of chemical castration, the caveat is that it is probably more effective with those who voluntarily request treatment. These men may well be less inclined to reoffend anyway. One of the prisoners interviewed for my research, for instance, said he agreed to it because he was now a grandfather and wanted “no more victims.”

In addition, androgen-suppressing medication may only be effective in those comparatively rare individuals with “paraphilias”, a psychiatric diagnoses of abnormal sexual orientation. Many sex offenders are opportunistic and may be motivated more by aggression and dominance than sexual paraphilia.”

The above may be in contradiction to the Madras High Court judge’s assertion that "Under the banner of human rights violations, some activists who first sympathise with the victims later support the criminal also. They are placing misplaced sympathy. Human rights were applicable to the victims.”

There is no question of sympathy for perpetrators, and the issue of human rights isn’t related to sympathy. This is not the first time that a call for considering the option of castration has been made by a court in India. In 2011, a Delhi judge had suggested chemical castration as punishment for rape, and in line with the conventional practice in countries/states that adopt it, the judge said that chemical castration should be offered as an alternative to imprisonment.

However, in 2013, the Justice Verma committee had rejected the demand for castration as a punishment for rape. First Post wrote: “The committee had noted that the punishment 'fails to treat the social foundations of rape', saying that the act is about 'power and sexually deviant behaviour'. The report also said that it would be unconstitutional and inconsistent with human rights treaties to expose citizens to the potentially dangerous medical side effects of castration without their consent.”