Move to lower juvenile age gets mixed response

New Delhi, Aug 7 (IANS): There was mixed response Thursday to the government's nod to amend the Juvenile Justice Act that will pave the way for 16/18-year-olds to be treated as adults when involved in heinous crimes.

Parents of the Dec 16, 2012 gang rape victim welcomed the move while a section of society has expressed its opposition, calling it unfair.

The decision to amend the act was taken at a cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi Wednesday.

The amended bill will now be sent to parliament for approval.

"I am fully satisfied with the amendments. Juveniles are used as organised gangs; we have to create some checks and balance. Every day, we hear what juveniles are doing. They are committing heinous crime and they have no fear. If we allow them, they will be a danger to society," advocate Rajesh Tiwari, the legal aid counsel for the juvenile in the Dec 16 gang rape case, told IANS.

Echoing similar feelings, the father of the Dec 16 gang rape victim said: "In most cases, the juvenile accused are in the age bracket of 16 to 18 years. They brazenly commit crimes as they know they will escape with minimal punishment. If the amendment is approved, it will create a sense of fear in them and reduce crime by 50 percent."

The amendment will empower Juvenile Justice (JJ) Boards to take a call on whether to treat 16/18-year-olds as adults in cases of heinous crimes.

Such convicted juveniles may face a jail term but will not be awarded life sentence or death penalty.

Former chief of the National Commission for Women (NCW) also "favoured" the move.

"These days children have a lot of exposure to mediums like the internet which leads to such incidents. However, since this is a debatable issue with legal and psychological aspects, the final decision should be reached after proper debate," Sharma told IANS.

Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi said in the Lok Sabha last week the move to amend the act was aimed to act as a deterrent for child offenders committing such crimes and also to protect the rights of the victim.

However, certain lawyers, activists and child rights organisations condemned the move.

Komal Ganotra, director, policy and advocacy, Child Rights and You, while agreeing that there cannot be any dispute on society's need to be safe and prevention of juvenile crimes, strongly condemned the move.

"We strongly condemn all sexual violence, be it by adults or juveniles, none of which can be justified by any means whatsoever...We are extremely disappointed and concerned whether this repeal of the JJ bill will actually serve the purpose," Ganotra said in a statement.

Child rights lawyer Anant Asthana wondered how the move will help to stop crime.

"I don't understand how it will stop crime. Rather, this will result in an increase in the number of children going to jail and lead to more crime. We will request parliamentarians to consider sending this bill to the parliamentary committee for informed consideration where it can take into account all evidences," he said.

Chairman of National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), Kushal Singh also questioned the government's move.

"I do not know from where the minister has been saying that crimes committed by juveniles have been increasing. If you see data, the crimes committed by juveniles are just 1.2 percent," Singh told IANS.


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