Women and Child Development Ministry moots amendment in juvenile laws to try them as adult for heinous crimes such as rape and murder.

The Ministry of Women and Child Development’s plan to empower the Juvenile Justice Boards to try under the Indian Penal Code children involved in heinous crimes, such as murder and rape, has come under criticism.

The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has said it was not taken into confidence before the plan was drafted. Child rights organisations have said the plan will amount to violating the right to life, liberty and equality of children.

At present, the Juvenile Justice Boards, which try children in conflict with law, can prescribe a maximum punishment of up to three years. But the draft of the proposal says children aged above 16 can be tried under the IPC if they are involved in heinous crimes. This can only be done by amending the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000.

“The proposal is expected to be finalised shortly,” a senior official in the Ministry of Women and Child Development told The Hindu.

Delhi gang rape case

The proposal is significant, given that the juvenile involved in the December 16 gang rape in New Delhi got away with a light punishment, even after the victim declared him the most gruesome among all perpetrators. According to the plan, the Juvenile Justice Boards will not hand down death and life sentences; nor will the age of the juvenile be reduced to 16 years as was planned earlier. The Juvenile Justice Boards will decide on what falls under the category of heinous crimes — the gravity of the crime or repeated offences. This has been done in keeping with India’s commitment to the United Nations Convention on Child Rights (UNCRC), which defines a child as anyone aged less than 18 years.

Dismissing criticism that the proposal is unlikely to receive Cabinet clearance since India is a signatory to the Convention, officials in the Ministry said this was factored in since there was no move to lower the age of juveniles. In July, the Supreme Court rejected petitions for lowering the age of juvenility from the existing 18 years.

However, in a letter to Minister for Women and Child Welfare Minister Krishna Tirath, NCPCR chairperson Kushal Singh said there could not be any “compromise” on the age of a child as defined by the U.N. The NCPCR had neither been informed nor consulted on the issue. “The NCPCR’s stand has all along been that there can be no compromise on the age of a child as defined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which India has ratified.”

The letters says the Commission had clarified the grounds on which it opposed the lowering of the age for juveniles in its submission to the Justice Verma Committee. The Verma Committee was constituted to recommend amendments to the criminal law so as to provide for quicker trial and enhanced punishment for those accused of sexual assault against women.

Call for debate

“The Indian laws relating to children have evolved over several years and are the product of an extensive research and understanding of the issue, and therefore it is essential that any review of the child rights jurisprudence should take place only after an exhaustive deliberation on the pros and cons of the subject,” the letter said.

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