The Union Cabinet has approved amendments to the Juvenile Justice Act on Wednesday whereby children in the age group of 16-18 years would no longer enjoy immunity from facing trial for a heinous crime like homicide and sexual assault.
The juveniles would be tried as adults if they commit such crimes and are liable for a prison term of seven years or more, if convicted. The amendment to the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill 2014 was approved at a meeting of the cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The latest amendments to the Bill have triggered a controversy from several sides saying that it would violate the basic principles of Constitution and that it would traumatize the children if brought before the criminal court. India ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child nearly 25 years ago to protect and promote the rights of children. The latest move apparently seems to breach that promise. The government introduced the Bill in August 2014 by which the juveniles belonging to the age group 16-18 would be tried and punished as adults for heinous crimes. The Bill was referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee which examined it in detail and strongly objected to the Bill in February this year. But the Union Cabinet overruling the recommendations of the Parliament panel went ahead with the proposal.
The 2012 Delhi gang-rape and fatal assault case which shocked the nation as well as the world had a juvenile below the age of 18, convicted in the case. While the others were awarded a death sentence, he was punished for three years in prison according to the Juvenile Justice Act. This led to huge uproar and public anger across the country following which the government amended the law. According to the latest proposal, the crime committed by the person would be examined by the Juvenile Justice Board consisting of psychologists and social experts to assess if the crime was committed as a “child” or as an “adult”. The person would then be tried as a juvenile or adult on the basis of this assessment. Human rights organizations have come forward opposing the move, urging the government, to analyse the consequences of the amendment. Besides the Parliament Standing Committee, the Supreme Court also recently observed that there was a need to review the Act in cases where the accused have committed crimes like rape, murder dacoity and acid attacks. The J S Verma Committee formed in the wake of the Delhi rape incident also didn’t consider the trial of juveniles as adults.
Punishing the criminals are part of giving justice to the victims of heinous crimes and when such juvenile criminals are let off enjoying the immunity provided by the Bill, it is plain injustice. But punishing the juveniles who get lured into the traps set by the anti-social elements of the society and those who commit crime as adults are not the same. The number of children experimenting with drugs and alcohol are on an alarming rise and the age at which they fall prey to such traps are coming down. Cutting short the age for trials is not a solution. It is the responsibility of the government and the society to identify and eliminate such traps that lure children. Happenings in the US show that harsh punishments endured by the juveniles along with the adults could turn children into hardcore criminals. The ambience favourable for bringing them up as good human beings with upright ethical values should be provided at home as well as in the society. The major physical and emotional changes in teen-age should be taken into account and they should be guided, supported and shown the right path which will eventually shape their conduct and character. The analysis of the parliament panel that the law is against the government policies couldn’t be ignored. With the Ministry and the Cabinet passing the Bill, one has yet to see if the Parliament would take care of the country’s adolescent children.