Zee Media Bureau/Ritesh K Srivastava
New Delhi: The Union Cabinet will on Wednesday discuss a proposal which calls for giving more powers to the Juvenile Justice Board to decide on whether a juvenile above 16 years involved in heinous crimes such as rape is to be sent to a correctional centres or tried in a regular court.
Importantly, all Central ministries have given their approval to the proposed amendments to the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 and it has now been placed on the agenda for today`s cabinet meeting.
The changes in the law come against the backdrop of outrage over the conviction of a minor in the Delhi gang-rape case of December, 2012.
The juvenile accused was tried in a juvenile court last year and sentenced to three years in a reform home.
A lighter punishment given to him despite his involvement in December 16 gang-rape case triggered a nationwide debate on punishment for juveniles convicted of heinous crimes.
However, according to the Bill, in no case the juvenile involved in a heinous crime will be sentenced to death or life imprisonment either when tried under the provisions of JJ Act or under the provisions of IPC.
Apart from that the amendments also include facilitating faster adoption of children and setting up foster care homes. The WCD Ministry intends to make the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) the statutory body, which means it will have powers to regulate inter-country adoptions along with issuing guidelines on adoption and related matter.
Meanwhile, the Amnesty International has voiced serious concerns over the proposed amendment to the Juvenile Justice Act, arguing that children must not be treated as adults under new juvenile justice law being considered by the central government.
“The Indian government must reject proposed amendments to juvenile justice laws that could allow children to be treated as adults in cases of serious crimes,” Amnesty International said ina press release issued today.
“Children can and do sometimes commit crimes as violent as those committed by adults. And the pain and anger of a victim or their family may well be the same regardless of whether a crime was committed by a child or an adult,” said Shashikumar Velath, Deputy Chief Executive, Amnesty International India.
“But children’s culpability, even when they commit ‘adult’ crimes, is different because of their immaturity. Their punishment should acknowledge this difference, reflect children’s special capacity for reform and rehabilitation, and be grounded in an understanding of adolescent psychology,” Velath added.
On 18 June 2014, Ministry of Women and Child Development stated that the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000, would be repealed and re-enacted. A bill is likely to be introduced in Parliament soon to replace the Act.
Under the bill, in cases where children aged between 16 and 18 are accused of serious crimes including murder, rape and acid attacks, authorities will conduct an assessment of factors including the “premeditated nature” of the offence and “the child’s ability to understand the consequences of the offence”. Based on the assessment, children can be prosecuted in an ordinary criminal court, and punished as adults if convicted. They cannot be sentenced to death or life imprisonment without the possibility of release.
Union Minister for Women and Child Development has said that the amendments are intended to deter violence against women because “50 per cent of all sexual crimes are committed by 16-year-olds who know the Juvenile Justice Act”. However, according to official data, children were allegedly involved in 5.6 per cent of all registered rape cases in 2013, and in 1.2 per cent of all registered criminal cases.
National Commission for Protection of Child Rights has described the proposed amendments as “retrograde in nature and against the principles of reformative and restorative justice” and said they would “defeat the intent and purpose of the juvenile justice system”. Several child rights organizations have also opposed the changes.
National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences (NIMHANS) told the government in a joint submission with the National Law School of India University, “making the argument of maturity based on the nature of crime does not stand scrutiny. Findings in neuroscience and adolescent psychology confirm that juveniles are more susceptible to negative influences and peer pressure, are less likely to focus on future outcomes, are less risk-averse than adults, have poor impulse control, and evaluate risks and benefits differently all of which pre-dispose them to make poor decisions.”
The institute said that offences by children were more likely to happen in “circumstances of neglect, exploitation and abuse, and the child having been socialized in a way where his/her decision making goes awry, rather than in a context of premeditation and criminality.”
The Supreme Court, in judgements delivered in July 2013 and March 2014, supported the position that all children accused of crimes must be tried under juvenile justice laws.
Under international law, anyone under the age of 18 is a child. Any amendment that would lower the age at which juvenile justice rules would be applicable to below 18 years would violate India’s international legal obligations.
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child – the expert body which monitors the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), to which India is a state party – has specifically recommended that states not allow 16 or 17-year-old children to be treated as adults.
“The Juvenile Justice Act was introduced in 2000 in part to comply with India’s obligations under the CRC. Any amendment that lowers the age at which juvenile justice rules apply would set India back several years in its treatment of child offenders,” said Shashikumar Velath.
The Justice Verma Committee, set up by the central government in December 2012 to review laws against sexual violence, recommended that the upper-age limit for juvenile justice rules not be reduced from 18 to 16.
With Agency inputs