The Rajya Sabha finally passed the Juvenile Justice Amendment Bill 2015 to replace the existing law that has been in force since 2000. According to WCD minister Maneka Gandhi, crimes, particularly sexual and violent crimes, committed by juveniles have shot up, which is reason enough to lower the age for criminals getting harsher punishments in the court of law.
But at the same time many parliamentarians have opposed the bill and walked out and raised concerns. There are some genuine concerns related to this bill which needed to be addressed properly. So let’s look at the rational side of this bill and will we really achieve our desired goals? Of course we will.
1-The bill allows for juveniles who are 16 years or older to be tried as adults for heinous crimes like rape and murder. Heinous offences are those offences which attract imprisonment of seven years or more.
Now a juvenile guilty of heinous crime could face imprisonment up to 7 years, but he won’t be given life imprisonment and death penalty.
2-The bill mandatory provides provision to set up Juvenile Justice Boards and Child Welfare Committees in every district. Each committee will have a chairperson and four other members, all specialists in matters relating to children including a mandatory woman member.
The Child Welfare Committees will look at institutional care for children in their respective districts.
3-The decision to try a juvenile 16 years or older as an adult will be taken by the Juvenile Justice Board, which will have a judicial magistrate and two social workers as members. If the board decides against it, then the juvenile will be sent for rehabilitation.
Juvenile convicted under regular justice system cannot contest polls and are ineligible for government jobs.
4- The bill also deals with, employing a child for begging which will invite imprison up to 10 years.
Also employing a child by militants invite imprison to 7 years.
If we look at the positive side of this bill, then this bill seems good and everyone is optimistic that it will reduce the crime committed by juveniles. But at the same time, there are many concerned voices which say, this bill won’t solve the actual purpose and we are becoming a draconian state to pass this law. Let’s look at those legitimate concerns and then we realize this bill is not a well-planned move and it won’t solve the actual purpose.
1-India is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which mandates that all children under the age of 18 years be treated equal.
Of course, this bill is contradiction with international standards of human rights organizations such as Amnesty India, Human Rights Watch, Child Rights and You.
2-The maximum children who break the law come from poor and illiterate families.
So better they should be educated instead of being punished. 56% juveniles accused of crimes come from families with a maximum annual income of Rs 25,000, while 53% juveniles are either illiterate or educated till primary school.
3-Many experts argue that juveniles between 16 to 18 do not have psychological restraint to control their actions and that’s why they should not be tried as adults.
4-The Justice Verma panel which was set up to bolster the criminal procedure code, too, was against the lowering of the age for trying juveniles. At the same time, many Child Rights Activists and Women Rights Activists have also called the bill a regressive step.
5-Many experts and activists have opinioned that responses after December 2012 Delhi Gang Rape is just creation of media sensationalisation of the issue.
Finally we can say that this bill is a welcoming move by our parliamentarians but legitimate concerns raised by experts should also be properly taken care into account so we could create a better environment for children in this country.