India gets a new Juvenile Justice Act
The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill which was ratified by Rajya Sabha in the Winter Session and approved by the President as an Act on 4 January came into effect today. Juvenile offenders will now be tried as adults if the crimes are deemed 'heinous' like rape and murder. They will deserve the same punishment as adult offenders.
The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 was the principal legal structure for juvenile law in India. The act grants for a unique approach towards the "prevention and treatment of juvenile delinquency" and provides a core for the "protection, treatment and rehabilitation" of children in the purview of the juvenile adjudication policy. The highest penalty under the act was 3 years.
Following the brutal 16 December Delhi incident, in which a paramedical student was brutally gangraped, the demand for reducing the age for trying juveniles involved in serious offences became more and more vociferous.
The Lok Sabha passed an amendment to the Juvenile Justice Act allowing children in the 16-18 age group to be tried as adults if they commit heinous crimes. The trial of the juvenile, whether as an adult or child, would depend upon the Juvenile Justice Board's assessment of the child. Many members had opposed the bill saying that retribution should not be the policy.
The Juvenile Justice Bill was passed in the Rajya Sabha. The law will now permit kids between "16-18 years to be tried as adults in heinous crime cases." Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi explained that no juvenile offender would be sent to jail directly. Only a psychologist would decide if the offense is committed with an adult-frame-of-mind or 'child-like'.
The new Juvenile Justice Act was criticized by certain segments as an infringement of human rights of children and that it would lead to exploitation. Brinda Karat of Communist Party of India (CPI-M) also questioned the logic of legislators and voters behind the new Juveline Justice Act. She said "that treating a 16-year-old as an adolescent criminal in Tihar jail is retrograde understanding."