MOSCOW -- Russian lawmakers on Tuesday gave first-round approval to a bill that strengthens punishments for pedophilia, including imposing mandatory chemical castration or life sentences in cases that involve repeated offenses.
The lower house, or State Duma, unanimously passed President Dmitry Medvedev's bill in the first of three required readings. The bill also needs approval by the upper house and Medvedev's signature.
It imposes a life sentence or chemical castration for sexual crimes against minors younger than 14 by those with a previous pedophilia conviction. Existing law allows for a sentence of 20 years for second-time offenders.
It bill also said that convicted pedophiles can be released on parole only after serving four-fifths of their sentence -- or apply for an earlier release only after volunteering for a chemical castration. Under existing law, convicts can apply for a release on parole after serving two-thirds of their sentence.
A lawmaker with the ruling United Russia party said the law follows an increase in the number of crimes against minors.
"In the past 10 years the number of pedophiles in our country rose three- or fourfold," Tatyana Yakovleva told the Interfax news agency.
In 2010, almost 7,600 people have been convicted for sexual crimes against persons below 16, according to Internal Affairs Ministry statistics.