A controversial Bill that provides for trying juveniles aged between 16 and 18 years for heinous crimes under laws for adults was cleared by the Lok Sabha on Thursday.
The government, arguing that the Bill had been framed to ensure no injustice was done to innocent children, finally used its numbers to squash all Opposition fears about possible misuse of the law.
Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi, who piloted the Bill, told the House that she had tried to be “pro-child” and to strike a “fine balance” between justice to victims and rights of children.
Later, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, who was among the Opposition MPs who had moved against the government’s Bill tweeted: “Attempts2inject humanity into JuvenileJusticeBill crushed by Govt's brute majority in LokSabha. To kids, suit-boot sarkar=brute-jhoot sarkar.”
The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill was passed after the government agreed to delete a controversial clause that said that if a minor commits a crime between the ages of 16 and 18, but is caught after he has turned 21, should be tried under the IPC and not juvenile laws.
The government moved at least 42 official amendments which were adopted.
The new law, Ms. Maneka Gandhi said, was intended to deter juveniles from committing crimes that would spoil their lives.
Referring to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) statistics, she pointed out that in 2013, around 3,887 juveniles had allegedly committed heinous crimes.
Not just that, a recent Supreme Court order, she pointed out, had favoured a fresh look at the law in view of the growing number of juveniles involved in heinous crimes.
New law will give room for misuse, says Opposition
All the amendments moved by Opposition MPs like Mr. Tharoor (Congress) and N.K. Premchandran (RSP) to The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill were negated.
The Opposition’s argument against the new law — that is being enacted against the backdrop of the involvement of a 16-year-old in the 2012 Nirbhaya gangrape case — is that it would open up the possibility of misuse and violation of the rights of children.
Indeed, when some Opposition MPs said the new law should not be a knee-jerk reaction to the Nirbhaya case, Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi, who piloted the Bill, said that even a “single crime is equally worthy of punishment.”
She also refuted the allegation that she only loved animals and not children.
Rejecting the Opposition’s contention that the Standing Committee’s recommendations were disregarded, she said 11 of 13 recommendations had been accepted.
Allaying concerns that the new law could be misused against the poor, the ‘Adivasis’ and other deprived sections of society, Ms. Gandhi said most of the crimes are committed against the poor and she was trying to ensure justice to them. But simultaneously, she said that poverty may provoke anger and envy but cannot be used as an excuse for crimes.
Under the proposed law, any juvenile aged between 16 and 18 years will stay in Borstal, an institution meant for housing adolescent offenders, till the age of 21 whatever be the sentence. Also, the new law makes no provision for death sentence or life imprisonment.
At 21, the behaviour of the offender will be assessed – and sentence curtailed, if signs of reform are noticed.