Bowing to mounting public pressure in the backdrop of the release of the juvenile convict in the Nirbhaya case which had led to an unprecedented public outrage, Rajya Sabha passed the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill, 2015 which had been hanging fire in the House for the last many months.
Under the new law, juveniles between the ages of 16 to 18 years can be tried as adults in ‘heinous cases’, thereby fulfilling one of the main demands of those who had been seeking changes to the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000.
With Nirbhaya's parents Asha Devi and Badri Singh in attendance (they were seated in the visitors' gallery to watch the proceedings) Rajya Sabha today finally took up the matter for discussion and passage. The Bill had been pending consideration of the Elders for the last 7 months after it had been passed by the Lok Sabha on May 7, 2015.
Moving the Bill for consideration and passage, Women and Child Development minister Maneka Gandhi today said that the legislation was "compassionate" and comprehensive in nature. "We may not be able to do anything about the juvenile convict in the Nirbhaya case but we can deter many other boys," she said.
However several parties, including the NCP, CPM and the DMK, pushed for referring the Bill to a select committee, arguing that further examination was required to decide whether the age for punitive action should be reduced to 16 years from the current 18 years. Anu Aga (Nominated member) also demanded that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee for examination as lowering the age of a juvenile from 18 years to 16 years will be a step in backward direction and would be considered a knee-jerk reaction only.
Left parties staged a walkout after the Chair declined CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury’s request to send the Bill to a parliament select committee for further examination.“Today you are demanding the juvenile age to be reduced from 18 to 16 what if tomorrow a 15-year old commits a horrendous crime,” Yechury said before leading the walkout from the House.
The Bill will now be sent to the President for his assent whereupon it will become the law replacing the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000.
Salient Features of the Bill:
(iii) petty offences (below three years of imprisonment).
Critics of the Bill have however flagged certain issues with the Bill as passed by the Rajya Sabha.
There are differing views on whether juveniles between the age of 16 and 18 years should be tried as adults in ‘heinous cases’ and ‘serious offences’ if they are apprehended only after the age of 21 years. It has been pointed out in some quarters that this provision is not in accordance with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, as ratified by India. The Parliamentary Standing Committee in its report had observed that the Bill violates the UNCRC as it differentiates between children below 18 years of age. The UNCRC states that signatory countries should treat every child under the age of 18 years in the same manner and not try them as adults.
There are also apprehensions that this clause which differentiates between juveniles depending on the nature of the offence, may not satisfy the requirements of Article 14, 20(1) and 21 of the Constitution.
Yet another anomaly of the Bill is that the penalties prescribed under the Bill are not in proportion to the seriousness of the crime committed. For example, a person giving a child a tobacco product or liquor attracts a higher term of imprisonment and fine than a person who engages in child trafficking.
Read the Bill here;