Parliament passes bill to reduce Juvenile age to 16 years

Parliament passes bill to reduce Juvenile age to 16 years
Juveniles aged 16 years and above will now be tried under laws for adults for heinous crimes as Parliament today passed a much-expected bill in this regard against the backdrop of a juvenile convict being released in the gangrape-cum-murder case of December 2012.

The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill, which provides for lowering the age for trial from 18 years, was passed by Rajya Sabha with a voice vote after a walkout by Left parties which wanted it to be sent to a Select Committee. The bill was passed by Lok Sabha earlier.

Replying to the debate on the bill, Women and Child Development (WCD) Minister Maneka Gandhi said the legislation was a "nuanced" one and was much needed to act as a "deterrent".

She said the incidents of heinous crimes by juveniles of the age of 16 years and above were on the rise and cited statistics to support her contention.

Allaying concerns expressed by members about the implications of the proposed legislation, Gandhi said it was "not against children but rather provides for, protects, nurtures and keeps them safe."

While CPI(M) members led by Sitaram Yechury staged a walkout demanding that the Bill be sent to a Select Committee, most of the other parties including Congress welcomed the passing of the legislation.

The bill was taken up against the backdrop of uproar over release of juvenile convict in the heinous gangrape-cum-murder of a 23-year-old girl on December 16, 2012. Parents of the victim have said that the convict could escape after spending three years in a correction home only because the law is weak.

Parents of the December 2012 gangrape victim watched the deliberations in Rajya Sabha from the Gallery when Maneka Gandhi piloted the Juvenile Bill. They were there for some time.
As the Minister requested the House to support the legislation, the Minister said, "we need this Bill as a deterrent...It is upto you, upto your sensibilities. Remember, India is watching us."

Pushing for passage of the bill, she said heinous crimes like rape by youth aged 16 and above was the "fastest rising segment". In this context, she said in Delhi alone, more than 1000 boys aged 16 and above were arrested for such crimes in one year.

When somebody pointed out that involvement of juveniles in such crimes is less than one per cent, she retorted that in a country like India with a population of 1.3 billion, one per cent means millions.

Gandhi referred to the Nirbhaya case and said that while preparing the draft for this law, she had held consultations with two Supreme Court judges who had heard the December 2012 gangrape case.

She underlined that poverty or lack of education alone could not be considered factors responsible for juvenile delinquency. Reading out data to support her contentions, she said a number of accused in serious crimes had education and not all were homeless.

Responding to a point raised by a member, the minister said that bringing in a law against rape had a considerable impact as cases were being registered by victims.

She assured the members that the "gender neutral" law has been drafted in a manner so that "even if one criminal is let off", not a single innocent child is tried under the adult system.

She also said that there was also the debate on whether it is nature or nurture, which shapes a person.

Responding to an instance narrated by DMK leader Kanimozhi, Gandhi said there could be instances where the child does not have to go through the adult system at all.

The Minister said while many members have mentioned poverty as a reason, it is not the only reason. She added that even in a prosperous country like Sweden, there are large number of cases of crimes like rape.

She said different countries have defined different "lakshman rekhas" to define children ranging from 9 in some states in the US to 12 in France to others where it is 14 or 16. If this August House decides, it will be 16 in India, Gandhi said before moving the bill for passage.

Gandhi also told the House that her ministry is working to improve the conditions in children's homes and that every village will soon have Women Special Police Officers, who will report crimes which are otherwise not reported.

CPI (M)'s Yechury said a law cannot be made "just on sentiments" but indepth examination of the issue would be required and pushed for sending it to a Select Committee for thorough examination.

Trinamool Congress leader Derek O'Brien countered Yechury, saying the bill was not being pushed on sentiments but on merit.

Yechury said the law would not apply to the juvenile convict in the Nirbhaya case. Seeking more deliberations on lowering the age to 16 years, he questioned what would happen if a 15-year-old commits a crime.

Deputy Chairman P J Kurien said he had got two notices for referring the bill to a Select Committee but none of the members pressed it. He then took up the bill for voting and in protest Left parties walked out of the House.

When some members pointed out dichotomy in the Juvenile Bill that for selling a child, the punishment provided was 5 years and for administering drugs 7 years, Leader of the House Arun Jaitley said both selling a minor or major were trafficking of human beings which is already punishable in the Indian Penal Code and other provisions.

According to the law, if the crime comes under two laws, then the convict will be made to serve the harsher punishment, the lawyer-turned-politician clarified.

He said there is no inconsistency as harsher punishment will be applicable to the culprit if found guilty under two Acts as IPC has already stricter punishment described.

Participating in the debate, Satish Chandra Misra (BSP) demanded that the provision for the circumstances leading to crime should be excluded in case of rape.

On one of the provisions in the Juvenile Bill that in case of rape the perpetrator's mental and physical ability would be assessed besides circumstances, he said the meaning of consequences was not clear.

"The provision of consequences and circumstances makes the entire law redundant. Don't generalise it. Can there be a circumstance/consequence justifying rape," he questioned.

He urged the state governments to upgrade the status of child remand care centres and at the same time regretted that Moral Science lessions which were mandatory in school education earlier were not there.

Expressing serious concern that invasion through internet has made pornography easily available for children whose mind were being polluted, he said not only juveniles but if their parents or adults are found encouraging in such matters, they should also be forwarded to remand homes.

Misra said such children and parents should be socially boycotted. Participating in the debate, Ritarbrata Banerjee (CPI-M) said proper enforcement of the existing law would have served the purpose instead of moving amendments to it. "As far as bill is concerned, more examination is required. It should be sent to a Select Committee," he added.

Vandana Chavan (NCP) also demanded that the bill be sent to a Select Committee saying that "we are taking the shortest path to seem like we are doing something for women".

"We have to realise the legal system cannot stand on emotions. It should be on reason. Justice Verma Committee declined to reduce the age. According to me, we really do no need this bill," she said.

Urging the government to take a balance approach, Chavan said, "This law is stringent. Send it to a Select Committee for deeper study. Passing this bill will amount accusing our children. We have to provide justice to victims and children."

M V Rajeev Gowda (INC) said the government should be careful in going forward with the bill in the absence of accurate data on juvenile crime.

Stating that lack of institutional capacities is a matter of concern, he sought know what if qualified JJB fails to serve the purpose of the bill.

Suggesting the government not to hurry with the bill, Kanimozhi (DMK) said how will the bill serve the purpose when there are not enough courts, coursellors and pyschologists in the country.

"We are emotional, worried about safety of women. At this juncture, what is the hurry? The child crime is static and not gone up...Parliamentary Standing Committee as well as Justice Verma Committee were against reducing the age. This is a concern. Please send it to a select committee," she said.

Supporting the bill, K T S Tulsi (Nom) said children are getting matured fast and juvenile crimes are rising.

"I commend the minister for having a balanced legislature that takes care of the rights of children and ensure they are held liable for crimes. This is done without amending the definition of 'children," he said.

The definition of 'juvenile' is 18 years and "I don't understand why we are stating rights of children are sacrificed? We need to take into account the circumstances in which the crime was committed...," he added.

Viplove Thakur (INC) said there is a need to go to the root of this problem rather than passing the bill in a hurry.

Just changing the age is not the solution, she said adding, "By that yardstick there is a need to change the minimum marriage age from 21 years."

There is also a need to check the mindset of the police officers, who are harsh towards juvenile criminals, she said.

K Keshava Rao (TRS) questioned whether a thorough study been made on the background of the juvenile criminal and what led them to commit the crime.

"Institutional backing is absolutely not there. Juvenile homes have become a breeding ground of criminals. What is being done to check this. The Minister should clarify on Section 5 in the bill on states to have Special Welfare Police Officers. States do not have them," he added.

Vijaylakshmi Sadho (INC) said there is a need to ramp up the status of primary education in the country as well as the government has to also provide more facilities to the victims like councilors, psychologists, etc.

Rajni Patil (INC) said like psychologists find out the mental age of a mentally retarded person, similarly there is a need to find out the mental age of the juvenile criminal.

She attacked the government on its intention of why did it allow the release the juvenile convicted in the Nirbhaya rape case and also inquired about the status of the funds spent by the Nirbhaya Fund.

Supporting the bill, Sanjay Raut of the Shiv Sena said underworld don Dawood Ibrahim committed his first crime when he was 16 years of age. Also organised crime is frequently using juveniles. The bill will be able to check this activity.

He also pointed out to the criminal laws related to juveniles in countries such as some states in the US, China, the UK, Arab countries and Islamic nations.

Anand Sharma (INC) said there is a strict law on rape, but unfortunately such crimes have increased. He asked the government to clarify the definition of 'Henious Crime'.

Empirical evidence suggests that juveniles convicted under serious crimes are sent to prisons where they are exploited and come out as hardened criminals. There is a need to make separate facility for these juvenile criminals, Sharma added.

Supporting the bill, Ramdas Athawale (RPI (A)) said that capital punishment should be given to the rape convicts.

Naresh Gujral (SAD) asked for clarity on the definition of heinous crime and said that under provisions of the bill correction centres would not be able to run as the matrons there would not be able to discipline the juveniles as it bars them from physical violence against the juveniles.

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