Parliament passes bill to reduce Juvenile age to 16 years, Left parties stage walkout

Justice for Nirbhaya

New Delhi, Dec 22: Parliament on Tuesday passed a much-expected The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill against the backdrop of a juvenile convict being released in the gangrape-cum-murder case of December 2012.

The 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.

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.

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.

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 PJ 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.

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