This article was submitted to Ergo by Shivangi Bajpai, a first year at NLU-Odisha, originally hailing from Jodhpur. She is a voracious reader, and writing poetry is one of her guilty pleasures.
In the Aftermath of the release of the juvenile, accused of raping Jyoti Singh, in the winter of December 2012, Rajya Sabha in its winter session on 22nd December 2015 subdued to the public pressure to pass the Juvenile Justice Bill and reduce the age of juvenile in India from 18 years to 16 years. The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Amendment Bill 2015 had already been passed by Lok Sabha in May 2015 and was pending in Rajya Sabha. Now, having been passed by the Rajya Sabha, it only needs President’s assent to become a law.
Under the proposed new law, those charged with ‘heinous crime’- for which the minimum punishment for an adult is imprisonment for 7 years- who is aged between 16 years old and 18 years old, can be tried as an adult. For this, a juvenile justice board consisting – a magistrate and two social workers, has been formed that would assess the mental age and physical capacity of the juvenile as well as the person’s ability to understand the consequences of the crime. The decision to try a person as an adult would then be ratified by the children’s court which would also draw up a plan for rehabilitation. If found guilty, a child who would be tried as an adult must then be ‘sent to a place of safety’ and shall be transferred to a jail only on his turning 21 years. Repercussions of the bill have not been considered when the bill was passed in Rajya Sabha with a voice vote after a walk out of Left parties which wanted it to be sent to a select committee. A number of Rajya Sabha MPs, including women, have expressed that the passing of the law was emotionally prevailed more than being driven to reform criminal propensities of the juveniles.
The law makers have totally resorted to the shortest path, it seems, to show from their conduct that they are doing something for women safety. This comes as a general realisation that the legal system does not stand on emotional backdrop but on reason.
Quoting Sitaram Yechury (CPM), who referred to Verma Committee and said: “Why are those recommendations being ignored? Regret that Parliament has missed an opportunity to consider such an important bill in a more dispassionate and scientific manner.” He too, along with various other MPs called for a select committee. Justice Verma committee in 2013 stood firmly against the lowering of the age criteria for juveniles accused of heinous crimes including rape. The former chief Justice of India, in his report said- “The Law is for general application and not for a particular case…And that sexual offenses are not necessarily for the purpose of satisfying the sexual lust. It is more an exertion of power, male domination and that covers many aspects.” To drive home his point, Justice Verma also said that the committee has followed proper research and analysis and thus is firmly against the lowering of the age of the juvenile and feels that there can be no debate about certain points in the report.
Drawing conclusion from Justice Verma’s report, we clearly see that the lowering of age of a juvenile was dabbed with emotion more than reason and is a result of urban lynch’s cacophonous cry for yet another bill not because of merit but because emotions run high. Drawing example from the Lokpal Bill, which turned out to be defunct, we should have taken our lessons but yet there is no harm done. Juvenile Justice Act shall bite us back, more specifically the youth of the country. This bill shall make sure that the misguided youth of the country, indulged in heinous crime where heinous crime is not just rape, does not get a second chance to reform and instead become hardened criminal because this bill leaves no scope for reform and is mainly driven by punitive propensities.
Apart from this, this part of the bill contravenes with the United Nations Human Convention on the Rights of Children, which India has ratified. The convention says that all those under the age of 18 should be treated equally. UNCRC mandates the age of a child to be below 18 years. By law, those under 18 are not allowed to vote, sign a contract or engage a lawyer because they are not considered mature enough to understand the consequences of their decision and this makes them a vulnerable category.
This bill leaves a wide valley of doubt about the role the law-makers are playing. Are they Reformers or Impairers?
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