An amendment to the Juvenile Justice Act of India was recently proposed by the Ministry of Women and Child Development (WCD). The draft Bill addresses significant issues including corporal punishment, ragging, adult trials for juveniles committing heinous crimes and adoption. The Bill has sparked debate across the country. Child rights activists vehemently oppose the treatment of minors above 16 years as adults in crimes like rape, murder and acid attacks. Opposing this view, women’s rights activists believe that this amendment will act as a deterrent and ensure justice is given to victims and their families.
The new draft Bill is more inclusive, having provisions for children in conflict with law and for children requiring protection. Issues like sale of children and using children for peddling, which were previously excluded, are now within the purview of the Act.
Follow the link to see a summary of proposed changes and the existing bill:
ADULT TRIALS FOR HEINOUS CRIMES
The amended Act now permits minors above 16 years to be tried as adults in cases of rape, gang rape, murder and acid attack. It bestows the Juvenile Justice Board (JJ Board) with powers to decide, depending on the case, whether a child needs to be tried in a regular court or sent to a corrective home. Finally, the Act disallows awarding life sentence and death penalty in any case.
These changes are steps in the right direction due to many reasons. Data released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) stated that a total of 2,074 reported rape cases were committed by juveniles in 2013 of which 2,054 were committed by boys who were 16 to 18 years old. It constitutes 6% of the total rapes committed in India. Also, according to an NCRB report, 1, 007 murders were committed by juveniles.
While child rights activists argue that the accused children do not know the Act, Maneka Gandhi, Union Minister of WCD, said, “According to police data, 50% of all sexual crimes are committed by 16-year-olds who know the Juvenile Justice Act so they can do it.”
The Nirbhaya rape case and Shakti Mills rape case are examples of gruesome crimes committed by juveniles but remain unpunished under the current system. Sometimes these rapists threaten the families of victims after completing their term in correctional centres. (Here is a report on one such case: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/delhi/Juvenile-child-rapist-and-killer-threatens-victims-sister-after-release/articleshow/22298472.cms)
This amendment seeks to provide justice to the victim. Although, critics suggest correctional facilities as being more reformative, it is important to note that these centres are poorly maintained. A report in The Daily Pioneer highlights these atrocities. It quotes eminent activists stating how these homes are often the cause for crimes rather than a reformative solution.
To know more about the state of juvenile corrective facilities in India, click here:
CORPORAL PUNISHMENT AND RAGGING
Despite Supreme Court banning ragging, it continues in many colleges, sometimes causing death. Recently, cases of corporal punishment were witnessed in schools for the specially-abled. While the earlier Act did not cover these issues, the draft Bill calls them “criminal offences”, inviting jail terms for a maximum of three years and a fine. These stringent measures will act as deterrents for teachers and students engaging in such activities.
Follow the link to read a recent incident of caning in Andhra Pradesh: http://m.newindianexpress.com/andhra-pradesh/340617
In India, adoption is a lengthy process. Several reports also show that children are abused in foster care homes which are illegally set up. Inadequate facilities, quality of care and individual child care is absent in these homes. The draft provides statutory status to the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA). It is responsible for in-country and inter-country adoption. Speedy adoption and heavy punishment for foster care homes without registration was recommended. Institutionalisation is permitted only if a child cannot be provided with any family-based care. These mechanisms successfully address all the aforementioned problems.
Begging, sale or procurement of children, cruelty to children, child sexual abuse and child labour are punishable under this draft. It also prohibits using children for vending, peddling and transporting or smuggling of narcotics and liquor. Earlier, these areas were not under the Act.
Lastly, it incorporates principles of the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Inter-Country Adoption (1993) which are absent in the existing Act.
The new Act provides stricter laws to deal with problems concerning children. If implemented properly, it can bring about significant changes in society.
Here is a recording by a law student, Harshavardhan on why he believes the Act is a much needed change. Click on the link to listen: