NEW DELHI: Delhi government's proposal to try juveniles of 15 to 18 years as adults for heinous crimes has got a thumbs down from legal experts and rights activists who have termed Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal's suggestion as "mindless" and vouched for a need to educate minor offenders.
Child rights activists and lawyers have said that Delhi government's proposal was not a solution for the increasing number of crimes by the minors and instead of trying to change law, the focus should be on creating awareness, speedy trials and convictions.
However, neither agreeing with the activists nor with Kejriwal, Congress MP and noted criminal lawyer K T S Tulsi said that lowering the age of juveniles to 16 years was necessary as it would give them a message that they cannot be let off easily.
Kejriwal had recently suggested that age bar for juveniles offenders be lowered from 18 to 15 years and they be tried in regular courts after two juveniles were arrested for allegedly raping a two-and-a-half-year-old girl in Nihal Vihar here this month.
Commenting on the issue, activist Ranjana Kumari said, "lowering the age of juveniles to try them as adults is a mindless suggestion and not a solution to curb the crime".
Similarly, advocate Vrinda Grover termed the suggestion as "retrograde step" and said that awarding harsh punishments to the juveniles would turn them into hardened criminals.
Anant Kumar Asthana, also a child rights activist, said lowering the age will not be of any help in reducing crime against women.
However, Chairman of Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights, Atul Mathur, partly supported the amendment in Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill which is pending in the Rajya Sabha according to which the Juvenile Justice Board judge would decide if a case where a juvenile is involved in heinous crime be sent to a regular trial court.
"In case of incidents involving juveniles, it is not the question of lowering age but the need is for Juvenile Justice Boards (JJBs) to have a serious look and be given discretion to send a 16-year-old to normal court if required.
"The power to the JJBs in the proposed law has some merit as it will look at the gravity of offence," Mathur said.
Kumari, Director for Centre for Social Research, said, "Instead of trying to change law, we should focus on community awareness, speedy trials and convictions. Juveniles need to be reformed. How many people can you arrest and put in jails?" Amidst the debate that the present juvenile justice system has proved ineffective and the proposed amendment would be harsh, activists feel it compromises with minors' protection.
"I completely oppose the JJ bill pending in Rajya Sabha. Reducing the age of a juvenile for putting them at par with adults is a retrograde step. The announcement by the Chief Minister says it all. Awarding harsh punishments to juveniles will turn them into hardened criminals," Grover said.
Referring to Centre's earlier proposal for reducing the age to 16 years and Delhi government's recent suggestion, Asthana said, "Where will this stop?"
"Harsh punishment to juveniles is not related to women safety. Law provides for severe punishments for adults for committing heinous crimes, but have they stopped doing it?," he asked.
Differing with them, Tulsi said, "Criminal gangs take the advantage of this age criteria and it is the child who gets exploited by these gangs. Since the inception of this law, involvement of the children in crime has increased by around 300 per cent."
An initiative to sternly handle juvenile offenders above 16 years of age has already been taken by the Centre by introducing Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill, which was cleared by Lok Sabha earlier this year, and now the Delhi government is also examining the possibility to further reduce the age to 15 years to try them as adults.
According to the proposed amendment mooted by the Centre, the JJB will decide whether cases where a juvenile is involved in a heinous crime would be tried under the provisions of the JJ Act or regular trial court.
The bill, however, secures juveniles convicted for heinous offences from death penalty and life sentence.
The activists also vouched for the need to understand the mindset of juveniles and what drives them to commit such henious offences.
"Mindset of a juvenile needs to be studied. There is a need to educate them and think of long term solutions. Tampering with JJ Act in anger is not the solution and should not be sacrificed in the name of crime prevention. Society also needs to take responsibility as cause of these crimes are among us only," Asthana said.
Expressing similar view, Grover said focus should be on finding out why they are not educated, why they drop out from schools and attention should be turned to juvenile reformation instead of stricter punishments.