New Delhi: Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi's stand that juveniles who commit rape should be tried as adults has evoked mixed reaction, with women's and political leaders stressing widespread consultations but child rights organisations completely opposed to the suggestion.
Speaking in Chennai, Gandhi said: "We are changing the law and I am personally working on it to bring 16-year-olds into the purview. According to police, 50 percent of the crimes are committed by 16-year-olds who know the Juvenile Justice Act."
The parents of the Dec 16, 2012 Delhi gang-rape victim, who died days after her brutal gang rape in a moving bus, welcomed the statement as one of the six rapists was a juvenile.
"No criminal should be given special treatment only on the ground of being a juvenile. Every body who rapes, gang-rapes or murders should be given equal punishment. There should be no difference between juvenile and adult criminals," the father of the 23-year-old victim told IANS.
He said if such a law comes in existence, it will be helpful in controlling crime.
Agreeing with Gandhi's statement to a point, National Commission for Women (NCW) chairperson Mamta Sharma said: "The minister's statement is fine to some extent, because according to police data, juveniles commit crime and they are let free. This is a debatable issue so experts, psychologists, etc. should hold debates and consultation on the matter."
National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) chairperson Kushal Singh, however, said that changing the law and punishment was not a solution.
"Right from the beginning we have held that lowering the age of the juvenile regardless of the crime committed goes against the basic philosophy of Juvenile Justice Act.
"A separate act has been made for the children because there is scientific proof that children are not developed enough mentally and physically so to hold them responsible for the actions taken by them," he said.
Echoing similar feelings, a lawyer with the Juvenile Justice Board told IANS that the age of 18 has been fixed on account of the understanding of experts in child psychology and behavioural patterns that "till such an age the children in conflict with law could still be redeemed and restored to mainstream society, instead of becoming hardened criminals in future".
Officials of Chetna, an NGO working for children, told IANS that they disagree with the minister's statement.
"We do not agree with what the minister has said. We request her to consult children and NGOs in this matter," said Sanjay Gupta from the NGO.
Congress leader Renuka Chowdhury said the issue needs detailed discussion and consideration.
"To bring change... I support a nationwide discussion, it is something we need to discuss threadbare, we need to revisit and relook everything and keep it in the matrix of today's time," she said.