The first verdict in the December 16 New Delhi gang-rape case, which saw the juvenile sentenced to just three years' detention in a reform home, has sparked widespread anger in the country. Opposition parties said they would seek tougher punishments for juveniles who are involved in heinous crimes. Many people expressed anger on the social media over the lenient punishment given to the juvenile.
However, eminent child rights activists termed demands for reducing the age of juvenility from 18 to 16 and to remove minors involved in heinous crimes from the ambit of juvenile justice act purely on the basis of the Delhi gang-rape case a “knee-jerk reaction”. They said it would be “counter-productive” and “not a deterrent”. Read: Delhi gang-rape: ‘3-yr sentence akin to acquittal’
The rape and murder of a 23-year-old student by six attackers on a moving bus in Delhi last December sparked nationwide protests and led to reforms that mandated longer sentences for adult sex offenders.
Sushma Swaraj, Opposition leader in the Lower House of Parliament, said she would introduce a bill this week to amend the law for juveniles. "This meagre punishment of just three years does not do justice," Swaraj wrote on Twitter.
"The sentence must commensurate with the gravity of the offence irrespective of the age of the offender," she added.
Subramanian Swamy of Bharatiya Janata Party, told AFP the teenager "should have been executed" and he intended to file an appeal against Saturday's court order.
Swamy has already lodged a petition in the Supreme Court challenging India's juvenile law for not taking the gravity of a crime into account during sentencing.
"It's ridiculous to think you can reform a person who has committed a heinous crime, who has raped and murdered a young woman in such a brutal fashion," he added.
On Saturday a juvenile court in New Delhi sentenced the only under-age suspect in the gang -- who was 17 at the time of the crime -- to three years in a correctional facility.
This was the maximum sentence under India's law, which treats all under-18s as children and seeks to reform rather than punish them.
"TRAVESTY: December 16 teen rapist 'gets away' with murder," a headline in the tabloid Mail Today read, summing up the mood.
The convicted teen will spend about 28 months in a juvenile detention centre, having already spent about eight months in custody awaiting the verdict.
The minor will be kept in a separate cabin at the juvenile shelter home in north Delhi's Majnu Ka Tila, due to the threat perception surrounding him.
However, he may well spend the rest of his term at the reformatory home watching TV, playing games, receiving vocational training.
Read: Juvenile convict can watch TV in reformatory home
This is because such special homes are not like jails. Their focus is no rehabilitation and social integration.
Inmates at correctional centres for minors are kept together and allowed to interact with each other but the now 18-year-old rapist will be kept separate because of the 'threat perception'.
He would be allowed visitors but people who wish to see him have to seek prior permission from the correctional home authorities.
Under the Juvenile Justice Act, a minor can be kept at a reformatory home for a maximum of three years. Convict of 16 years of age or or above are kept at special homes since they turn adult during the course of reformation.
Protestors outside the juvenile court on Saturday and the victim's family called for the teenager to be hanged.
However, eminent child rights activists said harsher punishment to juveniles would be “counter-productive” and “not a deterrent”.
Bharti Ali of ‘HAQ’ centre for child rights said, “Such amendments under public pressure based on one incident will have long-term dangerous consequences on the plight of lakhs of other juveniles.”
Read: 'Amendment in juvenile act will be counter-productive'
Lawyer and juvenile justice expert Anant Asthana said the best way to ensure that juveniles do not get involved in horrific crimes like the Delhi gang rape and murder case was by effective enforcement of various provisions of the act and creating an effective system to deal with children in need of care and protection.
Ved Kumari, eminent expert on juvenile justice law and ex-chairperson of the Delhi judicial academy, said: “While condemning the ghastly gang rape, I want to focus on the child involved in the offence. This boy was all of 13 years when he left home. Why did he leave? What was his home like? What happened to him in the last five years? What all has been responsible for turning him into this beast? Why did the juvenile justice system in place in our country not reach out to him and prevented him from being what he has become today?”
Asthana added, “A child does not turn into a monster on his own in a day. It takes years of apathy and abandonment to make a child go astray in life.”
“One incident cannot be a reason to disturb the well thought-out purpose of the law…it will not only disturb the momentum of efforts to improve protection of children but also open a Pandora’s box wherein similar demands will be made for several other offences committed by a juveniles considered serious in nature,” said Amod Kanth, former chairperson of Delhi Commission for protection of child rights and general secretary of the NGO ‘Prayas’.
(With inputs from AFP)