India's top court hits out at high rape acquittal rate

NEW DELHI - India's top court has criticised the large number of rape cases that end in acquittal, amid renewed outrage over violence against women after the gang-rape of a photographer.

The Supreme Court questioned the reason for the high number of acquittals during a hearing on Monday, adding that the situation "is going from bad to worse".

"What is wrong with the system? Why are 90 per cent of rape cases ending in acquittals? The situation is going from bad to worse," Justice R.M Lodha told the court in New Delhi.

"Why is it (rape) happening again and again? That too only in metropolitan cities?"

The two-judge bench also ordered the country's states to come up with better schemes to compensate and rehabilitate victims of rape as well as to improve protection for victims and witnesses.

The statements come after five men were arrested over the gang-rape of the 22-year-old photographer in Mumbai on Thursday, a crime that reignited anger about women's safety in India following a similar attack last year.

The group allegedly trapped and repeatedly raped the woman in an abandoned mill near an upmarket district of central Mumbai, where she was on assignment for a magazine with a male colleague.

The colleague was tied up with a belt while the attack occurred.

The attack rekindled memories of the fatal gang-rape of a 23-year-old student in New Delhi in December. That crime sparked nationwide protests and brought to the surface seething anger about violence against women in India.

The outrage led to a tougher anti-rape law that included increased punishment for sex offenders, who face the death penalty if a victim dies, and a broader definition of sexual assault.

But women's groups have said many victims do not report attacks because of social stigma, a hostile police reaction and an inadequate and notoriously slow judicial process.

Official data shows 11,154 rape cases ended in acquittal or discharge during 2012, while 3,563 cases resulted in a conviction.

Another 86,032 cases were awaiting trial at the end of last year, according to the data from the National Crime Records Bureau.

The Supreme Court made the comments during a hearing into the gang-rape of a schoolgirl in the northern state of Haryana.

The 15-year-old was allegedly raped by three men in 2012, and her mother was later killed for not withdrawing a complaint over the attack, the Press Trust of India reported.

It said the court was told that the school's principal refused to let the girl return to classes after the incident.