The Rajya Sabha passed the Juvenile Justice Bill on Tuesday amid protests by a divided opposition.
The delay in passing the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill became a contentious issue in the last few weeks with the recent release of the juvenile convict in the 2012 Delhi gangrape case.
The victim Jyoti Singh’s parents and other organisations protested vociferously against his release, but the petition against it was dismissed by the Supreme Court, and have sought a swift passage of the bill. The general consensus has been that that had the bill, which is stuck in the Rajya Sabha due to the Parliament logjam, been passed earlier, the law could have prevented the 20-year old from getting out.
The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Amendment Bill, was finally taken up in Rajya Sabha on Tuesday. Here’s what you should know about the bill, according to a document by PRS India.
Introduced in 2014
The Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha on 12 August, 2014 by the Minister of Women and Child Development, Maneka Gandhi. It was then referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resource Development in September and the report was submitted on 25 February, 2015.
Who is a juvenile?
The bill recognises juveniles between the ages of 16-18 years and permits them to be tried as adults for heinous offences. It further adds that any 16-18 year old, who commits a serious offence, may be tried as an adult only if he is apprehended after the age of 21 years.
It should be noted here that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child requires all signatory countries to treat every child under the age of 18 years as equal. The provision of trying a juvenile as an adult contravenes the Convention.
Offences committed by juveniles are categorised as heinous offences which includes those with minimum punishment of seven years of imprisonment under IPC or any other law; serious offences which would lead to three to seven years of imprisonment and petty offences which would be for below three years of imprisonment. Another point to note here is that a juvenile cannot be given life imprisonment ‘without the possibility of release or death penalty’.
The bill omits a provision from the Act which provided for the separate treatment of juveniles or children suffering from leprosy, sexually transmitted disease, Hepatitis B, Tuberculosis, or with unsound minds. It also replaces a provision which gave competent authorities in special homes or the power to move children suffering from leprosy, unsound mind, or drug addiction to special facilities.
An earlier Firstpost article pointed out the several issues with the Amendment. For example, there is the point about what would happen if, as in the December 2012 gangrape case, there are both adults and juveniles who are accused. Will there be two separate chargesheets, trials, appeals and so on? If yes, can the same judge who pronounced a verdict for the adult accused decide on the culpability of the juvenile? What happens in cases where two minors elope and the parents, rather than the girl herself, file an FIR alleging rape? Do we want such teenagers to end up in jails? These are questions for which the proposed bill has few answers.
With the Winter Session of Parliament set to end this week, the speed of Rajya Sabha’s response to the bill will be crucial.