New Delhi: Parliament on Tuesday passed the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill, 2015 that will allow trying those above 16 years of age as adults, if they commit heinous crimes, in a court of law.
The heinous crimes, explained Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi, were murder, rape, acid attack, kidnapping for ransom and dacoity, where the maximum punishment under the Indian Penal Code was imprisonment for seven years and above.
With the Rajya Sabha passing the bill through a voice vote, decks have been cleared to enact the new law as the bill was passed by the Lok Sabha in May. At present, the accused under 18 years of age cannot be prosecuted as adults. They are tried by the Juvenile Justice Board (JJB), which can give the maximum punishment of 3 year imprisonment in a juvenile home.
This provision came under intense scrutiny following the December 16, 2012, brutal gang-rape of Jyoti Singh.
The most brutal of the rapists was the juvenile. He received the maximum punishment from the JJB, but was released earlier this week.
A committee headed by former Supreme Court judge Justice J S Verma reviewed the case and suggested several changes in the criminal justice system. But it was against lowering the age bracket for juvenile convict.
The government, however, went against the committee’s advice and brought the Juvenile Justice (care and protection) Bill, which was scrutinised by a Parliamentary Standing Committee as well. The bill was pending in the Rajya Sabha since the monsoon session as a section of MPs wanted a second opinion through a Select Committee.
“The new law does not mean a 16 year old juvenile convict will go to jail straight. It has been left to the JJB to decide if a child would go to the adult system,” Maneka said.
As the MPs were debating the pros and cons of the bill, Jyoti’s parents – Asha Devi and Badrinath – watched the proceedings in the Upper House. They also met Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi earlier in the day. “I am relieved,” Asha Devi said after the bill was passed. The new law would not be applicable retrospectively on the juvenile convict in the case.
Inside the House, several members raised concerns on the bill and infrastructure of the detention centres. But none brought any motion before the Chair opposing the legislation.
The CPM and NCP demanded sending the bill to the select committee, but only CPM staged a walkout when the bill was put through the voting process.