Juveniles aged 16 years and above will now be tried under laws for adults for heinous crimes as Parliament today passed a much-expected bill in this regard against the backdrop of a juvenile convict being released in the gangrape-cum-murder case of December 2012.
The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill, which provides for lowering the age for trial from 18 years, was passed by Rajya Sabha with a voice vote after a walkout by Left parties which wanted it to be sent to a Select Committee. The bill was passed by Lok Sabha earlier.
Replying to the debate on the bill, Women and Child Development (WCD) Minister Maneka Gandhi said the legislation was a "nuanced" one and was much needed to act as a "deterrent".
She said the incidents of heinous crimes by juveniles of the age of 16 years and above were on the rise and cited statistics to support her contention.
Allaying concerns expressed by members about the implications of the proposed legislation, Gandhi said it was "not against children but rather provides for, protects, nurtures and keeps them safe."
While CPI(M) members led by Sitaram Yechury staged a walkout demanding that the Bill be sent to a Select Committee, most of the other parties including Congress welcomed the passing of the legislation.
The bill was taken up against the backdrop of uproar over release of juvenile convict in the heinous gangrape-cum-murder of a 23-year-old girl on December 16, 2012. Parents of the victim have said that the convict could escape after spending three years in a correction home only because the law is weak.
Parents of the December 2012 gangrape victim watched the deliberations in Rajya Sabha from the Gallery when Maneka Gandhi piloted the Juvenile Bill. They were there for some time.
As the Minister requested the House to support the legislation, the Minister said, "we need this Bill as a deterrent…It is upto you, upto your sensibilities. Remember, India is watching us."
Pushing for passage of the bill, she said heinous crimes like rape by youth aged 16 and above was the "fastest rising segment".
In this context, she said in Delhi alone, more than 1000 boys aged 16 and above were arrested for such crimes in one year.
When somebody pointed out that involvement of juveniles in such crimes is less than one per cent, she retorted that in a country like India with a population of 1.3 billion, one per cent means millions.
Gandhi referred to the Nirbhaya case and said that while preparing the draft for this law, she had held consultations with two Supreme
Court judges who had heard the December 2012 gangrape case.
She underlined that poverty or lack of education alone could not be considered factors responsible for juvenile delinquency. Reading out data to support her contentions, she said a number of accused in serious crimes had education and not all were homeless.
Responding to a point raised by a member, the minister said that bringing in a law against rape had a considerable impact as cases were being registered by victims.
She assured the members that the "gender neutral" law has been drafted in a manner so that "even if one criminal is let off", not a single innocent child is tried under the adult system.
She said different countries have defined different "lakshman rekhas" to define children ranging from 9 in some states in the US to 12 in France to others where it is 14 or 16. If this August House decides, it will be 16 in India, Gandhi said before moving the bill for passage.
Gandhi also told the House that her ministry is working to improve the conditions in children's homes and that every village will soon have Women Special Police Officers, who will report crimes which are otherwise not reported.