Experts from various disciplines on Friday questioned the government's decision to lower the legal age of juveniles for criminal liability from 18 years to 16 in the new Juvenile Justice Bill.
In a state level consultation on Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) bill 2018 held here experts including academicians, lawyers and child rights activists also showed their resentment for bringing up the new chapter of Adoption in the draft bill.
The event organised by Integrated Child Protection Department (ICPS) in collaboration with the non-governmental organisation Save the Children was also attended by Secretary Social Welfare Department Dr Farooq Lone and Justice Hasnain Masoodi.
G.N Itoo, Director School Education while sharing her thoughts on the bill said, "I am not in support of bringing down the age to 16 years. The age should be 18."
Itoo further said that by the age of 18 a child is groomed, get education and is "mentally at a stage where they can take a decision."
"So 18 is an appropriate age that too in case of Jammu and Kashmir where young boys and girls face problems day in and out."
According to the first draft of the Juvenile Justice Act of 2018 bill, the age for criminal liability should be lowered to 16 years in case of a heinous offence.
The bill has also brought in a clause for adoption.
"A child in respect of whom an adoptive order is issued by the court, shall become the child of the adoptive parents, and the adoptive parents shall become the parents of the child as if the child has been born to the adoptive parents, for all purposes, including intestacy with effect from the date on which the adoption order takes effect."
In 1997, the Jammu and Kashmir legislature passed the Juvenile Justice Act and a decade later laid down the rules to enforce it. After delay of many years, in 2013, the legislature finally cleared the updated Juvenile Justice Act and approved its rules the following year.
And only last year the law was actually being enforced when structures like Juvenile Justice Boards and Child Welfare Committees began to be set up.
But before the law could be fully implemented on the ground, the government said it was planning an amendment to it.
Dr Syed Mohammad Afzal Qadri, former Head and Dean Law Department Kashmir University said, "18 should be the age for criminal culpability".
"This controversy on age was raised after the Nirbaya case Committee was constituted by Government of India and the committee suggested to differentiate the age on the basis of crimes – heinous and non-heinous."
But, Qadri said, the distinction cannot be made in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
"There are people that live in far flung areas and don't know what law is, not to talk of Juvenile Justice Act. Bringing down the age will create more problems, than solve actually."
Shareef Bhat, general manager of Save the Children questioned the government's intention to bring in a new legislation.
"How is this Act in the best of the children, and why in the first place is there a need to bring in a new Act when the previous act has not been fully implemented?" Bhat asked.
"We need not be emotional, but logical."
Many experts also raised questions on the government's decision to amend the law to legalise adoption in Jammu and Kashmir where it is tied to the special status of the state.
The draft law states that, "provided that any property which has vested in the adopted child immediately before the date on which the adoption order takes effect shall continue to vest in the adopted child subject to the obligations, if any, attached to the ownership of such property including the obligations, if any, to maintain the relatives in the biological family."
The bill also talks about having 'specialized adoption agencies' in the state for the "rehabilitation of orphans, abandoned or surrendered children, through adoption and non-institutional care".
There experts opined that the chapter on adoption should be removed from the bill and, if at all, the government wants to go ahead with legalising adoption there should be a provision that adoption would be intrastate and no law would be passed that would attack J&K's special status.