Amnesty flays changes in juvenile justice laws

New Delhi, Dec 23 (IANS) Changes to India’s juvenile justice laws that allow children to be treated as adults in cases of serious crimes are a step backwards for children’s rights, Amnesty International India said on Wednesday.

“Children do sometimes commit crimes as violent as those committed by adults,” said Aakar Patel, executive director of the Amnesty International India.

“But their punishment should reflect the fact that their culpability is different because of their age, and consider their special capacity for reform,” he said in a statement.

The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill was passed by the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday.

Under the bill, in cases where children aged between 16 and 18 are accused of serious crimes including murder and rape, authorities will conduct an assessment of factors including the child’s “mental and physical capacity to commit such offence, ability to understand the consequences of the offence, and the circumstance in which he committed the offence”.

Based on the assessment, children can be prosecuted in an ordinary criminal court, and punished as adults if convicted. They cannot be sentenced to death or life imprisonment without the possibility of release.

“Under international law, anyone under the age of 18 is a child,” said Patel. “The bill in effect lowers the age at which juvenile justice rules apply to 16, which violates India’s international legal obligations.”

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which monitors the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – to which India is a state party – has categorically stated that every person under 18 years of age at the time of an alleged offence must be tried in accordance with the rules of juvenile justice.

“It is true that India’s current juvenile justice system is flawed in many ways, and does not always lead to effective reform and rehabilitation,” said Patel.

“But the solution is not to change the law. It is to better enforce it.”

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