A bill providing for trial of juveniles aged between 16 and 18 for heinous crimes under laws governing adults was passed by the Lok Sabha on Thursday. Over 40 amendments moved by the government were adopted while those moved by opposition MPs were kept out.
Trying to allay the concerns of the House, Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi said she has tried to be “pro-child” and made efforts to strike “a fine balance” between justice to victims and rights of children.
Maneka added the new law is intended to be “deterrent” to ensure juveniles refrain from crime and avoid spoiling their lives. She justified the need for the new law quoting National Crime Records Bureau data that shows around 28,000 juveniles had committed various crimes in 2013 and of them, 3,887 had allegedly committed heinous crimes.
“The new law is meant to apply to such 3,887 juveniles out of 47.2 crore juvenile population of the country.” She rejected the opposition’s contention that the government had disregarded the recommendations of the parliamentary standing committee, saying 11 out of 13 recommendations had been accepted.
Under the proposed law, any juvenile aged between 16 and 18 will stay in a borstal, an institution for housing adolescent offenders, till the age of 21 whatever the sentence. Also, there will be no provision for death sentence or life imprisonment. Once an offender turns 21, his behaviour will be assessed and if he has reformed, his sentence may be reduced, Maneka said. “We do not want to be mean to children…. This Act is a deterrent,” the minister added, also rejecting allegations that while she loved animals she was not favourable to juveniles.
She added that the cases will be tried by a Juvenile Justice Board, which will include a sociologist and a child rights activist and that she had prepared the bill after exhaustive consultation, including with judges who tried the December 16 Delhi bus gangrape case.