NEW DELHI: Juveniles aged 16 years and above will now be tried under laws for adults for heinous crimes as Parliament today passed a much-expected bill in this regard against the backdrop of a juvenile convict being released in the gangrape-cum-murder case of December 2012.
The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill, which provides for lowering the age for trial from 18 years, was passed by Rajya Sabha with a voice vote after a walkout by Left parties which wanted it to be sent to a Select Committee. The bill was passed by Lok Sabha earlier.
Replying to the debate on the bill, Women and Child Development (WCD) Minister Maneka Gandhi said the legislation was a "nuanced" one and was much needed to act as a "deterrent". She said the incidents of heinous crimes by juveniles of the age of 16 years and above were on the rise and cited statistics to support her contention. Allaying concerns expressed by members about the implications of the proposed legislation, Gandhi said it was "not against children but rather provides for, protects, nurtures and keeps them safe."
While CPI(M) members led by Sitaram Yechury staged a walkout demanding that the Bill be sent to a Select Committee, most of the other parties including Congress welcomed the passing of the legislation.
The bill was taken up against the backdrop of uproar over release of juvenile convict in the heinous gangrape-cum-murder of a 23-year-old girl on December 16, 2012. Parents of the victim have said that the convict could escape after spending three years in a correction home only because the law is weak.
Parents of the December 2012 gangrape victim watched the deliberations in Rajya Sabha from the Gallery when Maneka Gandhi piloted the Juvenile Bill. They were there for some time. As the Minister requested the House to support the legislation, the Minister said, "we need this Bill as a deterrent...It is upto you, upto your sensibilities. Remember, India is watching us."
Pushing for passage of the bill, she said heinous crimes like rape by youth aged 16 and above was the "fastest rising segment". In this context, she said in Delhi alone, more than 1000 boys aged 16 and above were arrested for such crimes in one year. When somebody pointed out that involvement of juveniles in such crimes is less than one per cent, she retorted that in a country like India with a population of 1.3 billion, one per cent means millions.
Gandhi referred to the Nirbhaya case and said that while preparing the draft for this law, she had held consultations with two Supreme Court judges who had heard the December 2012 gangrape case. She underlined that poverty or lack of education alone could not be considered factors responsible for juvenile delinquency. Reading out data to support her contentions, she said a number of accused in serious crimes had education and not all were homeless.
Responding to a point raised by a member, the minister said that bringing in a law against rape had a considerable impact as cases were being registered by victims. She assured the members that the "gender neutral" law has been drafted in a manner so that "even if one criminal is let off", not a single innocent child is tried under the adult system. She also said that there was also the debate on whether it is nature or nurture, which shapes a person.
Responding to an instance narrated by DMK leader Kanimozhi, Gandhi said there could be instances where the child does not have to go through the adult system at all. The Minister said while many members have mentioned poverty as a reason, it is not the only reason. She added that even in a prosperous country like Sweden, there are large number of cases of crimes like rape.
She said different countries have defined different "lakshman rekhas" to define children ranging from 9 in some states in the US to 12 in France to others where it is 14 or 16. If this August House decides, it will be 16 in India, Gandhi said before moving the bill for passage.
Gandhi also told the House that her ministry is working to improve the conditions in children's homes and that every village will soon have Women Special Police Officers, who will report crimes which are otherwise not reported.
CPI (M)'s Yechury said a law cannot be made "just on sentiments" but indepth examination of the issue would be required and pushed for sending it to a Select Committee for thorough examination.
Trinamool Congress leader Derek O'Brien countered Yechury, saying the bill was not being pushed on sentiments but on merit. Yechury said the law would not apply to the juvenile convict in the Nirbhaya case. Seeking more deliberations on lowering the age to 16 years, he questioned what would happen if a 15-year-old commits a crime. Deputy Chairman P J Kurien said he had got two notices for referring the bill to a Select Committee but none of the members pressed it.
He then took up the bill for voting and in protest Left parties walked out of the House. Rajeev Chandrashekar (IND) supported the bill but moved two amendments seeking broader definition of "heineous crime" and strong provisions to ensure better functioning of Juvenile Justice Board (JJB). "The definition of heineous crime is broad. The bill must be specific. Amend it as murder, rape, terrorism and trafficking and I move amendment in this regard," he said.
Supporting the bill, Dilip Kumar Tirky (BJD) hoped the bill will deter juveniles from committing heineous crimes and cautioned the government to keep in mind the law would not be "misused". He demanded much more stringent provisions for those involved in child trafficking.
Anil Madhav Dave (BJP) blamed the education system for rising crimes. When Dave sought more time to speak on the subject, the Deputy Chairman P K Kurien dismissed it and vent his anger saying, "You gave your name later. I should not have called your name. How can it be? One one hand, you are pressing me to close (debate) at 5 pm and on the other side you are allowing your person to speak more and more".
Dave immediately ended his speech, while other members asked the Chair to go easy and cool down his temper. Earlier around 4.30 pm, many members including AITC member opposed when Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Muktar Abbas Naqvi said the discussion on the bill be completed by 5 pm.
Derek O'Brien (AITC) said, "There is no short cut for this. 12 more members have to speak. We cannot fast forward this."