History was created in a single day when the Government of India passed amendments to the special juvenile justice law to curb the rising spate of heinous crimes, including gang-rapes, murders and other assaults, committed by juveniles especially against women in the country. The new Bill pertains to recognizing the rights of the victims as against the earlier version that leaned in favor of social reformation and social reintegration of juvenile offenders rather than relegating them to the gallows, writes Priyanka Bhardwaj. (@Siliconeer, #Siliconeer, #PriyankaBhardwaj, @narendramodi)
Regarded as a collective and corrective measure, the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill, 2015 has lowered the age of criminal culpability in gruesome acts (those inviting seven or more years of rigorous punishment and which can go up to death) from 18 to 16 years.
It comes in the context of the brutal Nirbhaya gang-rape case that attracted national and global attention.
On the night of December 16, 2012 a 23-year-old physiotherapist girl, accompanied by a male friend, was brutally raped by five men in a moving private bus and then thrown out of it naked in the bitter cold.
Sixteen days hence the girl succumbed to her injuries in a Singapore hospital but the public and media, outraged with the crime, could not allow the memory to fade away.
They demanded police, government and legal action against the culprits.
The police captured all five accused and three are fighting death penalties, as one allegedly committed suicide while in custody.
However, the third being a juvenile offender was awarded three years of imprisonment as mandated by the previous law, despite the enormity of the crime.
With the nearing of the date of his release, December 20, 2015, the victim’s parents and the public rose in unison, demanding a trial of the offender as an adult and this meant changing the laws.
In such a milieu the central government supported by major political parties like the Congress voted with a speedy passage of the new Bill.
The tenets of Act provide for the Juvenile Justice Board, comprising a metropolitan magistrate and two eminent social workers, to adjudicate on the merits of every case to assess if the offender is to be sent to a corrective home or to a jail.
The maximum period of jail for juveniles would not exceed seven years and the Bill makes space for greater involvement of organized and volunteering community during and after the processes of dealing with crime prevention, reform and rehabilitation.
It also enshrines the responsibility of the family and all social groups in promoting an inclusive and enabling environment to minimize vulnerabilities of children and the need for intervention.
However, those in support of the new Bill are eminent ex-Indian Police Service officer, Kiran Bedi, who perceives, “The new Bill is a collective reform and restoration even if it takes the route of stiff punishment for certain adult crimes committed by juveniles,” and senior advocate K.T.S. Tulsi who threw light on the global trend of lowering age of culpability in matters of jurisprudence.
“In England and Wales, for several offences, children above the age of 10 are held to be criminally liable. In Australia, the prescribed age is 14-18 years for children to be responsible for their actions under criminal law. In the United States, many states have the age of 12 years for holding children responsible for criminal acts. In New York and Texas, the age is 17 years. In Bangladesh, it is 16 years and in Denmark, it is 15 years. And psychologists now feel that the children are grown-ups by the age of 14, responsible for their actions,” stated Tulsi.
Upholding the amendments and calling it a major legislative reform measure that would provide a robust protection framework is the Nobel Peace Laureate Kailash Satyarthi’s take.
However, those opposing the new Bill, the Left parties, National Congress Party and DMK, and a nominated Rajya Sabha member, Anu Aga raise doubts on all counts like the difference in sexual maturity and mental maturity of persons, weak implementation of the laws, etc.
Coming up against the government giving in to the populist demand, the Supreme Court chided it for its inability to ‘reform’ the Nirbhaya case juvenile convict and unconditionally supporting a legally flawed plea made by the Delhi Commission for Women to further detain the juvenile till he “reforms” himself.
A Bench of Justices A.K. Goel and U.U. Lalit remarked that in fact it was the government’s responsibility if the convict has turned into “more of a threat to the society at large on release.”
As matters stand the juvenile convict in the Nirbhaya case has been released as the new Bill cannot be applied retrospectively.
Asha Devi, the mother of Nirbhaya, is “satisfied” with the passing of the Bill but still rues that her brave-heart daughter has failed to get justice.