NEW DELHI: As the parents of the December 16 gang-rape victim watched from the gallery, Rajya Sabha on Tuesday passed the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) bill — which will allow for juveniles aged between 16 and 18 to be tried as adults for committing heinous crimes.
Until last Friday, the majority opinion had been to send the bill, due to certain concerns, to a Select Committee. However, the outcry, fuelled by constant media coverage, had made the government list the bill, and the Congress withdrew this demand, along with Trinamool Congress.
During the five-hour debate, regional parties, including NCP, DMK and Left, asked for the bill to be sent to the Select Committee, while AIADMK was ambiguous about its stance. But, when the time for the voice vote came, NCP and DMK came on board, while CPM walked out to show its extreme displeasure.
During the entire duration of the debate, the parents of Nirbhaya sat in the visitor’s gallery, listening carefully to the arguments made in favour and against various clauses of the legislation.
Though Nirbhaya’s name cannot be mentioned as per law, lawmakers took her name thrice during the debate, which was later expunged from the proceedings.
Earlier, introducing the bill, Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi said contrary to fears, the bill does not mean that if a 16-year-old who commits a heinous crime will automatically go to jail. The juvenile will first go before a Juvenile Justice Board, which will determine whether the crime was committed with a “child-like” or “adult frame of mind”.
No Automatic brandinAg
■ Under the Juvenile Justice Bill, the adolescent will first go before a Juvenile Justice Board, which will determine whether the crime he had committed was with a “child-like” or an “adult frame of mind”
■ If deemed to have an ‘adult frame of mind’ and being aware of ‘consequences’, the juvenile can
appeal and won’t enter adult criminal justice system automatically
■ At the end of all these, if it is decided they are to go to adult jail, they will be put only in a borstal institution
If deemed to have an ‘adult frame of mind’ and being aware of the ‘consequences’ of his crime, the juvenile will have the power to appeal and will not enter the adult criminal justice system, WCD Minister Maneka Gandhi said.
“If, for instance, the court decides that they are to go into adult jail, even then they have the power of appeal as anyone else... At the end of all these steps, if it is decided that they are to go to adult jail, they will still not be put into adult jail along with adults. They will be put into a children’s jail — a borstal,” she said. A borstal will be a new institution that will have to be introduced as a result of this bill. Maneka admitted that that the bill would not impact the Nirbhaya convict who left the juvenile home on Sunday, as the law cannot be implemented retrospectively.
“We can do nothing about that young man. He will come, he will go his own way in life and, God willing, be a decent citizen after this, if it is possible. But it will stop a large number of boys who have got into this,” said the Minister. At one point she inadvertently mentioned Nirbhaya’s real name while saying the parents were “sitting here watching us”. When members objected, Gandhi admitted, “Okay, maybe, I should not take names”. The transcript of the proceedings did not mention the name. After her speech, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah Naidu pointed out that the government had brought the Bill on multiple days in various sessions. “I just want to put the record straight because an unnecessary debate is going on if the government is feeling shy to bring this Bill which is not correct,” he said. He added he did not want to impute “motives” on why the Bill was not taken up. This led to a strong protest with Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad stating Naidu had the habit of taking ‘panga’. Azad reminded that the age had been 16 in the original act passed by the Rajiv Gandhi government and that it was raised to 18 in 2000 by the NDA regime.
Azad said there should be separate facilities for those juveniles who are sent to jail and they should not be put up with hardened criminals. “Criminals and terrorists misuse the law and get crimes committed by juveniles because they feel that they can escape the law,” he said. He suggested that the Juvenile Justice Board be made more broad-based and there should be special classes.
A Navaneethakrishnan of the AIADMK said there was no provision for providing legal aid to juveniles in the bill. “Children who are involved in these kinds of crimes cannot engage a very successful or eminent or talented lawyer. Though an opportunity should be given to the children and it is contemplated in the provisions, it is not sufficient because it all depends on the persons who are dealing with these matters,” he said.
DMK’s Kanimozhi read a letter of a juvenile, who was forced into a life of crime due to circumstances and then entered the juvenile home to be further brutalised. She said her party was in favour of sending the Bill to the Select Committee.
NCP’s Vandana Chavan noted, “Science establishes that younger people engage in risky behaviour precisely because of an under-developed brain.” Chavan said the present law was adequate with a few tweaks, if properly implemented.
“We have miserably failed to properly implement and monitor various institutions under the present law of 2000. Do we have adequate Juvenile Justice Boards? Do we have Child Welfare Committees? Do we have special homes? It is only on paper. It doesn’t really exist” she asked, listing out the lacunae.
CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury appealed to the House to send the bill to a Select Committee and pointed out the bill could not be applied with retrospective effect. “Will we have to amend the bill again when another criminal of 15 years and 11 months commits a similar crime? We are making a law. We should not be influenced by sentiments,” he said. When his appeal was rejected, he walked out with his party members.